Green Bay Packers: Uncertainty at the Linebacker Position Once Again

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07: Kerryon Johnson #33 of the Detroit Lions runs for yardage against Oren Burks #42 of the Green Bay Packers during the second half at Ford Field on October 7, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07: Kerryon Johnson #33 of the Detroit Lions runs for yardage against Oren Burks #42 of the Green Bay Packers during the second half at Ford Field on October 7, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

From top to bottom at the inside linebacker position, there is once again uncertainty surrounding this unit for the Green Bay Packers.

The inside linebacker position is not one that the Green Bay Packers have typically valued over the years. They rarely re-sign their own, they usually aren’t going to spend a top-100 pick on the position, and they aren’t going to pay big bucks in free agency either.

This type of cavalier attitude towards the position can lead to uncertainty when it’s simply not valued very highly within the organization. And as we look ahead to the 2020 season, that’s what the Packers have once again. Uncertainty.

For a few seasons, Blake Martinez was a stalwart in the middle of this defense. He rarely missed a snap, always seemed to be around the ball, and was the play-caller for this unit. However, as we all know, he came with his limitations as well.

Although he was in on a lot of tackles, they often occurred a handful of yards downfield. Not to mention that he just didn’t work well in space.

Whether against the run or the pass, the middle of this Green Bay Packers’ defense had their issues last season. And while that certainly isn’t all Martinez’s fault by any means, better play from the linebacker position would absolutely help.

So who is going to step up this season?

Well, with Martinez now in New York, the Packers would add Christian Kirksey this offseason via free agency and if he is able to regain his past form, he will likely be an upgrade and on a cheaper contract as well.

Kirksey has spent his entire career in Cleveland where he was asked to work in space quite often. And while his coverage abilities aren’t elite, he has shown that he can hold his own. He’s also been an effective blitzer, a reliable tackler, and he can provide that help against the run.

On top of that, Mike Pettine was his Head Coach at the beginning of his career, so he is already quite familiar with the defensive scheme here in Green Bay.

However, the concern surrounding Kirksey is his recent injury history. Over the past two seasons, he has appeared in only nine total games, and even in his recent Zoom call with reporters, Pettine did acknowledge that this signing was a “risk.”

And as you’d expect, from the Green Bay Packers’ perspective, this recent battle with injuries is worrisome. While Kirksey could give the middle of this defense that boost and versatility that it needs, if injured once again, there is a lot of inexperience and unknowns on the depth chart behind him.

Oren Burks has had his own bout with injuries during each of his first two seasons and when he has been on the field, he’s really struggled against the run and in coverage – which is supposed to be his strong suit – his ability to diagnose what’s going on still has to greatly improve.

Fifth-round pick Kamal Martin could become an impact player with his ability to help against the run while also being able to drop into coverage, but keep in mind that he is still a rookie and a Day 3 draft pick. So expecting him to be that difference-maker right away really isn’t a reasonable expectation.

Then there is Ty Summers who is a very good athlete but needs to shore up his tackling and prove that he is more than just a special teams player. Meanwhile, Curtis Bolton had shown a lot of promise last summer before tearing his ACL. However, a year later we don’t know how quickly he will readjust to the NFL game or truly what to even expect from him.

After this group of five, there are some fringe roster players, undrafted free agents, and potential practice squad members.

While of course, it is always nice to have a dominant inside linebacker, if we take a look around today’s NFL, we also see that it isn’t a premier position either. So if things do go south for Green Bay, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the defense is going to go south with it.

I mean, they do still have The Smiths, Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos, and Darnell Savage after all.

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But from where we currently stand, it does look like it could be one of the weaker positions on this roster once again. And although poor linebacker play won’t turn this good Green Bay Packers’ defense bad, it will prohibit them from being one of the top units in the NFL.