Like all teams, the Green Bay Packers require a plethora of edge rushers in order to consistently pressure the quarterback. Unlike most teams, the Packers plan to use their top pass rusher at inside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense. That puts added strain on their remaining outside linebackers, a group that includes Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry. Peppers enters the season holding down one of the two starting spots. However, Green Bay may choose a relatively unheralded player over the Neal and Perry for the other one.
That player, third-year linebacker Andy Mulumba, has impressed so thoroughly during training camp and in the team's first preseason game that it's easy to forget that he suffered a devastating knee injury less than 12 months ago. Mulumba appears to have added both strength and speed during his rehabilitation, traits he put on display during his three tackle, 1/2 sack performance last Thursday. Mulumba has shown so much improvement that he may have played himself into a major role on defense.
And that role could come at the expense of Neal and Perry. Both linebackers have missed multiple training camp practices with injuries, and neither made the trip to Foxborough last week for the Packers' preseason opener. Though the team doesn't believe either will miss significantly more time, the fact that each player has a history of injuries suggests that they will eventually become unavailable again. Mulumba on the other hand hasn't missed one practice since returning from his knee injury, and he has outperformed nearly every other edge rusher on the roster thus far in 2015.
Accordingly, when all three linebackers are healthy, don't be surprised if Mulumba plays ahead of Neal and Perry when Matthews shifts inside. Head coach Mike McCarthy has regularly preached the value of availability, an area where Neal and Perry have struggled. Moreover, Mulumba might actually fit the defense better than either.
There's still plenty of time for Neal and Perry to reestablish themselves in the depth chart, starting with Sunday's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the momentum Mulumba has built since the start of camp can't go ignored.