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Friday Musings: Packers make another shrewd move at linebacker with De’Vondre Campbell

Green Bay added a veteran linebacker for the second year in a row, and may have found one athletic enough to help on all three downs.

Buffalo Bills v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

All eyes were on Jordan Love this past week as the Green Bay Packers kicked off their mandatory minicamp and the quarterback responded with a bounce-back performance on Wednesday, to go along with a confident interview about his readiness to step in as soon as Week 1. As Love gets first-team reps and battles critics, he may be aided by an experienced backup.

Yes, today’s musings will touch on Blake Bortles’ fit in Green Bay if Love is the first-string quarterback. But the Packers also made an underrated defensive acquisition this past week, signing veteran De’Vondre Campbell to bolster the inside linebacker position. How will he fit into the Packers’ defense and can he bring value on passing downs? That question is part of today’s featured storylines, as well as the pieces surrounding Campbell that could step up and help within the defensive box.

What will be the direct and indirect impacts of signing De’Vondre Campbell?

The Packers have made plenty of shrewd acquisitions with Brian Gutekunst as General Manager and the signing of Campbell earlier this week could be another to add to his resumé. With Green Bay’s inside linebacker depth tested last season when Krys Barnes was either off the field or playing with one hand, Campbell represents an experienced option to give the team some insurance. It is also the second year in a row that the Packers have gone to the free agent well to try and upgrade the position with a short-term deal.

What impact will Campbell have in coverage? That may be a question more difficult to assess, but the sixth-year pro’s ability in that part of the game could be significant. The Packers struggled through the 2020 season in coverage with the likes of Barnes, Christian Kirksey, and Ty Summers, and the team has often used safeties in the box on passing downs. Could a player like Campbell give Green Bay a potential three-down option? There seems to be a discrepancy between the eye test and the stat lines. While Head Coach Matt LaFleur says that Campbell “definitely brings a different dynamic to that [position] room in his ability to just cover, whether it’s tight ends or backs,” APC also noted this week that Campbell has been targeted heavily and allowing high completion and passer rates over the past several seasons.

Signing an athletic veteran like Campbell has minimal downside, even if struggles against the pass persist. But what impact will the signing also have on young players such as Barnes and Kamal Martin, who will be looking to make increased contributions in their second seasons? It can sometimes be a double-edged sword with veteran signings in a youthful position room. Seasoned players can help bring along younger teammates if they have a leadership presence, while simultaneously stealing developmental snaps.

There will be enough room at inside linebacker in Joe Barry’s defense for each of those three players to log playing time, but Campbell could end up being one of the better signings of the offseason by season’s end if he can grab on to a starting role.

Even with Campbell, the Packers figure to maintain box safety packages

As mentioned above, Campbell’s addition could provide the Packers with a potential passing-down linebacker that they have not had in some time. Still, based on Barry’s previous coaching stops, especially most recently in Los Angeles, it is expected that safeties will continue to line up in a variety of positions, including within the box. Although Raven Greene is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, this strategy should continue to fit the team’s current personnel.

If Darnell Savage indeed ends up playing more snaps in the nickel “star” position this season, there will be more emphasis placed on the Packers developing reliable safeties behind Savage and Adrian Amos. Will Redmond returns to the Packers with previous experience in the box, but a pair of second-year players are worth keeping an eye on.

Last year’s seventh-round pick Vernon Scott and undrafted Henry Black each played sparingly as rookies outside of special teams but may be built for that type of employment, specifically Scott. After Scott was drafted, an article on this site highlighted his fit for playing closer to the line of scrimmage based on TCU’s responsibilities given to the safety position. Likewise, Black made a splash play in forcing a fumble against Houston last year and should have every opportunity to compete for additional snaps this season. With speed becoming more of a priority by the year in the middle of the defense, the Packers have some bodies that can roam, and the development of those two players will be closely watched during training camp as the team searches for role players.

The Packers are in big trouble if Blake Bortles is seeing the field in 2021, but a reunion with Nathaniel Hackett is intriguing

Whether Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love is the starting quarterback this upcoming season, it will not be a good sign if Bortles is doing anything but holding the clipboard on game day. Still, Bortles may offer Green Bay the type of backup quarterback it needs behind either player.

Now entering his eighth season, Bortles brings starting experience as well as plenty of system experience to the quarterback meeting room. While Bortles certainly had polarizing highs and lows while in Jacksonville, his two best seasons came in 2015 and 2016 when Packers Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was his direct position coach. In 2015 specifically, Bortles was a 35-touchdown passer, throwing for more than 4,400 yards. Even as Bortles’ performance became spotty in the years that followed, Hackett found a way to provide “comfortable conditions” for Bortles and build a play action attack around Bortles’ delivery as the Jaguars’ OC. By no means is Green Bay counting on Bortles to come anywhere near his early career passing marks as a member of the Packers, but knowing the system could be an advantage if pressed into action due to an injured Love and for helping the young quarterback through his share of early lumps. Hackett’s past experience working with Bortles also provides optimism that he can design an offense to work to Love’s strengths.

There may have been some laughs and sarcastic jokes made when the Packers initially signed Bortles during the beginning of the Rodgers drama. But on the surface level, this signing at least makes a bit of sense if Rodgers indeed does not return to the team.