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Packers Training Camp Preview: ILBs will battle for job next to Blake Martinez

The Packers have one starting job locked up - but who will line up next to him?

NFL: Green Bay Packers-OTA USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Continuing our series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp, we examine the inside linebackers and reveal our pre-camp predictions for the team’s 2018 53-man roster. Follow along over the next two weeks as we break down the roster position-by-position and reveal our predictions.

The Packers got a shocking boost on defense last season — second year linebacker Blake Martinez suddenly became a star at middle linebacker, giving the team a solid presence in the middle of the second level of the defense. However, what the team lacked in that position group is a player who can reliably contribute in the passing game; Martinez had his moments, but he won’t be confused for Luke Kuechly or Lavonte David any time soon.

Enter the team’s third draft pick this spring, rookie Oren Burks, who brings the type of range and athleticism that NFL teams appear to covet in their weak-side linebackers nowadays. The question for Burks is probably not if, but when he will get a chance to start next to Martinez.

Here’s a look at the inside linebackers on this roster as we enter camp.

Jake Ryan

Years of NFL experience: 3
Current contract: final year of 4-year rookie contract; cap hit $2.021 million
2017 stats: 15 games played, 12 starts; 79 total tackles (50 solo), 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Ryan has spent parts of all three of his NFL seasons as a starter, first sliding into the lineup late in 2015 and spending most of the last two seasons in the lineup. A former 4-3 outside linebacker in college, Ryan is a decent run defender whose deficiencies in pass coverage and overall athleticism lead to him coming off the field when the Packers go to six or more defensive backs. He is probably much better-suited as a backup to Blake Martinez at the Mike position than he is playing Will, which requires a quicker, faster player.

Blake Martinez

Years of NFL experience: 2
Current contract: 2 years remaining on 4-year rookie contract; cap hit $725,848
2017 stats: 16 games, 16 starts; 142 total tackles (94 solo); 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 8 passes defended

After a relatively forgettable rookie year, Martinez burst onto the scene in year two and was often mentioned as a Pro Bowl snub. He was among the league leaders in both total tackles and solo stops and showed more of the ability to shed blocks and find the ballcarrier than he necessarily displayed coming into the NFL. He should be the Packers’ Mike linebacker for the foreseeable future.

Ahmad Thomas

Years of NFL experience: none (entered NFL in 2017)
Current contract: one year, $480,000
2017 stats: none

Thomas spent some time on the Packers’ practice squad a year ago and could compete for rotational playing time at the Will and a spot on special teams. The converted safety from Oklahoma is smaller than your typical linebacker, listed at just 6-foot and 220 pounds, and he won’t be an every-down player - but he could be a dark horse for a roster spot.

Oren Burks

Years of NFL experience: rookie
Current contract: first year of 4-year rookie contract; cap hit $685,189
2017 stats (Vanderbilt): 11 games played; 80 total tackles (44 solo), 7.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack; 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, 3 passes defended

The Packers traded back up into the third round of this year’s draft to select Burks with the 88th overall selection, adding a marvelous athlete (and another converted safety) to the group. Burks played a number of different roles for the Commodores, and he is very much in the mold of the modern Will linebacker — tall, lean, and fast. Look for him to push Ryan for a starting job early on.

Parris Bennett

Years of NFL experience: rookie
Current contract: first year of three-year contract; cap hit $480,000
2017 stats (Syracuse): 12 games played; 115 total tackles, 68 solo, 11.0 TFLs; 2.0 sacks; 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defended

The Packers have four undrafted free agent rookie inside linebackers on the team this year, and any of them could surprise by making the team, given the lack of established players on the roster. Bennett had a very productive year for Syracuse last season, racking up tackles like crazy. Another smaller player at 6-foot and 233, he could fit at either inside position.

C.J. Johnson

Years of NFL experience: rookie
Current contract: first year of three-year contract; cap hit $480,000

Getting a feel for the body type the Packers like this year? The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Johnson is like a lighter Burks, but he played for a smaller school (East Texas Baptist) and was not as productive. He’ll be fighting for a special teams and backup spot with the other undrafted players.

Greer Martini

Years of NFL experience: rookie
Current contract: first year of three-year contract; cap hit $480,000
2017 stats (Notre Dame): 12 games played; 75 total tackles, 39 solo, 3.0 TFLs; 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 1 pass defended

We asked One Foot Down, SB Nation’s Notre Dame blog, about Martini when he was signed after rookie minicamp. Clicking over there will give you a better breakdown of his game than any single paragraph we can put here.

Marcus Porter

Years of NFL experience: rookie
Current contract: first year of three-year contract; cap hit $480,000

Like Johnson, Porter is a smaller-school player (Fairmont State) and he is yet another in a line of 6-foot linebackers who are between 220 and 230 pounds. Porter has good movement skills but will need to flash on special teams in preseason games to have a real shot at the roster.