Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. We continue with a look at the inside linebackers.
The Green Bay Packers paid a king’s ransom to improve at outside linebacker last season and that investment saw returns of at least ten-fold as Za’Darius and Preston Smith gave Green Bay its best pass rushing tandem in a long time.
Unfortunately, while the outside indeed required a tremendous amount of attention, the same can now be said about the Packers at the inside linebacker position.
General manager Brian Gutekunst failed to spend any significant capital at the position which, if you turn the clocks back a year, actually made a lot of sense. Blake Martinez was coming off a career year and Oren Burks was still an intriguing prospect despite limited playing time and missing two games in 2018. Converted safety Josh Jones also figured to be in the mix before he asked for a trade and was eventually released.
With Jones released before the season, the Packers did acquire B.J. Goodson to replace him. Seventh round pick Ty Summers completed the inside linebacking unit for the 2019 season.
What followed was pretty much what you would expect and it wasn’t pretty.
Starters: Blake Martinez, B.J Goodson
Martinez did set a franchise record with 203 tackles and also had three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. He was far from spectacular this season but he was playing a good chunk of the season with a broken hand a club that would have made Nick Perry proud.
Martinez was drafted as a replacement for A.J. Hawk in every sense except he didn’t have a knack for losing his helmet. From wearing the same number to being the defensive player to his consistent yet unspectacular performance, Martinez has been every single thing Hawk was. He isn’t going to tilt the field like the Smith brothers on either side of him, but he played well enough to not be a huge asset while not being a liability either.
The issue with the inside linebackers wasn’t necessarily Martinez. It’s that he didn’t have much of anything behind/next to him.
Goodson was acquired via trade before the start of the regular season and only played 24% of defensive snaps. He was usually featured in base packages as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine opted to move a safety inside rather than deploy Goodson in sub packages.
That just shows you how poor the Packers were and are at the position.
Backups: Oren Burks, Ty Summers
Burks was an interesting player to watch after he was drafted in 2018. Unfortunately that potential has yet to materialize.
He injured his shoulder during the preseason as a rookie and he also missed the first four games of 2019 with a torn pectoral muscle. The former third round pick only saw 57 snaps this year and was limited to mainly special teams play. Without some significant improvement in camp this summer, Burks will likely find himself on the roster bubble especially if/when Gutekunst brings in new talent.
Summers never saw the field on defense as a rookie. He was utilized as a special teams player and barring a breakout camp and preseason, he figures to be a backup and special teams contributor again in 2020.
Overall grade: D
As much as some fans like to rag on Martinez, if it weren’t for him the grade for the inside linebackers would likely be an F.
We will discuss Martinez’s future in another post, but should he leave via free agency this group could look completely different at the conclusion of the draft in April.
To say the inside linebackers were bad in 2019 would be an understatement. Sure they’ve been neglected in terms of talent acquisition but getting a consistent pass rush was a much bigger need last season.
With that need resolved, full attention can finally be paid to the inside. No one knows what Gutekunst will do to fix the position but one thing is clear.
There’s nowhere to go but up.