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Packers 2016 roster preview: Young Inside Linebackers look to develop into strong core

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As APC reviews Green Bay's offseason roster, we examine the inside linebackers that return from 2015.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, Acme Packing Company will finish up our breakdown of the Green Bay Packers' 90 man roster to analyze each player and his chances of making the roster. That breakdown includes an expansive discussion on those returning on existing contracts as well as the team's additions from the offseason.

Wednesday brings inside linebackers into the fold. With Clay Matthews moving back to his natural position at outside linebacker, the Packers suddenly will be looking for a new identity at the position as we examine the returning players at the position and who might be able to step up and claim a starting spot.

Sam Barrington, No. 58

H/W: 6'1", 240 pounds

2015 Stats: One tackle

After being tabbed as a starter for the Packers in 2015 and projected to be on the field for the majority if not all defensive snaps, Barrington's season ended in week one with a foot injury that required surgery. This would be the second time in three seasons that Barrington would end his season with an injury, as a hamstring injury cost him his rookie season. Barrington will head into training camp penciled in (very lightly) as the starting middle linebacker for the Packers, but that could quickly change if he isn't able to impress initially. Going into his fourth season after being a seventh round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft out of South Florida, Barrington may be at the front of an uninspiring inside linebacker core.

Because of his good play in the 2014 regular season and postseason along with the lack of solid depth at the position, Barrington can be seen as a lock for the team. He has shown a nose for the ball along with being proficient at times against the run. His role for 2016 however, will be more defined as training camp and the preseason progress.

Jake Ryan, No. 47

H/W: 6'2", 240 pounds

2015 Stats: 50 total tackles, one fumble recovery

Once viewed as a top linebacker prospect while at the University of Michigan, Ryan saw his draft stock sink during the 2013 & 2014 season when he suffered an ACL tear and also worked on transitioning from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Known for spending hours in the film room and always putting as much effort in as possible, Ryan was thrust into a near-immediate starting role for the Packers when Sam Barrington went down with a foot injury and Nate Palmer played his way out of a job last season. Ryan played in 14 games and had five starts as he was still trying to acclimate to the next level. As he approaches his second year now in the NFL, Ryan is penciled in at the moment at one of the Packers' starting inside linebacker positions.

Ryan produced well given the circumstances in 2015 and will be given an entire offseason to only get better for 2016 as he looks to take an even bigger role. Ryan will most likely remain a starter and can be considered a lock for the 53 man roster. How much he can improve from year one to year two could very well determine how well this unit does.

Joe Thomas, No. 48

H/W: 6'1", 227 pounds

2015 Stats: 26 total tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one pass deflection

Originally an undrafted free agent signing for the Packers back in 2014, Thomas has seen time on both the team's practice squad and active roster. Thomas actually appeared in 14 games in 2015 while making no starts. He was used as a situational inside linebacker alongside Jake Ryan and Clay Matthews. He will enter training camp as a back-up and most likely won't get many opportunities to audition for a starting spot despite his experience, mostly due to his limited skill set.

Thomas is not a lock for the 53 man roster, but with his knowledge of the defense and lack of depth at the position for Green Bay, Thomas has an inside shot to nab one of the final spots if he shows well.

Carl Bradford, No. 54

H/W: 6'1", 248 pounds

2015 Stats: N/A

A highly productive linebacker while at Arizona State, Bradford has not been able to translate his success in college to the NFL. He did make the 53 man roster for the team in 2014 but was a healthy scratch for all 16 regular season games and both postseason games as well. He was waived in 2015 right before the season started during the team's final cuts. The team re-signed him to a future/reserve contract earlier this season, but it does not guarantee him any certainty for 2016. Bradford has not been successful so far in the NFL, never having made a regular season appearance yet.

Bradford is by no means a lock for the 53 man roster and would probably need a terrific training camp and preseason to be considered for a spot on the week one roster.