clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Packers 2016 training camp preview: Which ILBs will start in the base defense?

Sam Barrington must fend off rookie Blake Martinez for the right to start next to Jake Ryan.    

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Since Desmond Bishop tore his hamstring during the 2012 preseason, the Green Bay Packers have lacked a dominant full-time presence at the inside linebacker position. Clay Matthews certainly provided some juice to the position during his season and change playing inside, but the team plans to return the All-Pro to his natural place on the edge, leaving a void for another linebacker to fill. Perhaps that player doesn't reside on Green Bay's roster at the moment, though the current collection of off-ball linebackers offers as much promise as any the Packers have assembled in some time.

Sam Barrington, No. 58

6-foot-1, 240 pounds
4th season
College: South Florida

The graybeard among the Packers' inside linebackers, Sam Barrington enters his contract year without much in the way of security. A foot injury derailed his 2015 season after just one start, and a wave of new talent has arrived to fill the gaps. When healthy, Barrington plays with a level of physicality reminiscent of the aforementioned Bishop, though he doesn't produce as many impact plays. Still, for a group lacking experience, Barrington offers as much as anyone at the position.

Jake Ryan, No. 47

6-foot-2, 240 pounds
2nd season
College: Michigan

Though Jake Ryan didn't break into the starting defense until late in the season -- he started just the final six games of the regular season -- his ascension into a larger role seemed inevitable from the start of the year. Ryan offers speed and smarts, always in short supply among off-ball linebackers, and his play grew more and more consistent with additional work. Ryan enters 2016 as the one near-lock to start inside for Green Bay. Still, the team needs him to become a bigger playmaker in his second season.

Joe Thomas, No. 48

6-foot-1, 227 pounds
3nd season
College: South Carolina State

Left off the roster at the start of the 2015 season, Joe Thomas returned following Barrington's season-ending foot injury. Thomas primarily played as the team's dime linebacker, covering tight ends and slot receivers to varying degrees of success. A role still exists for Thomas if he shows greater consistency this year, but he faces a significant challenge from the incoming rookie class.

Carl Bradford, No. 54

6-foot-1, 245 pounds
3nd season
College: Arizona State

On pure athletic talent, Carl Bradford may rank atop the Packers' group of inside linebackers. Despite weighing more than any of his competitors in Green Bay, he still produced a 37 1/2-inch vertical, a 122-inch broad jump and a solid 4.76-second 40-yard dash during his combine. However, on the field Bradford has appeared tentative, reacting to the offense rather than anticipating the play. The Packers have effectively redshirted him twice. If his ability doesn't finally manifest on the field, he shouldn't expect to stick around for the third season.

Blake Martinez, No. 50

6-foot-2, 237 pounds
College: Stanford

Though not selected until the fourth-round, Blake Martinez could have one of the largest first-year impacts of any of the Packers' draft picks. Already, Martinez appears to have narrowed the gap between him and Barrington for the starting spot next to Ryan. Even if Martinez loses the competition, he should end up taking over for Thomas as the team's go-to coverage linebacker, a role in which he excelled at Stanford.

Beniquez Brown, No. 43

6-foot-1, 236 pounds
College: Mississippi State

Unlike many undrafted free agents, Beniquez Brown actually left college a year early to enter the draft. Whether the gambit pays off remains to be see, though he does offer some top-level college experience -- he started multiple seasons in the SEC -- and passable athleticism for the position. Barring a spate of injuries to the players ahead of him, Brown's best chance of sticking around likely involves the practice squad.

Jason B. Hirschhorn is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and covers the NFL for Sports on Earth and SB Nation. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.