Quick thoughts on Packers position groups: Stability and expectations at linebacker

Nov 27, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker (7) runs out of the tunnel for action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker (7) runs out of the tunnel for action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

As part of my training camp preview, I have been taking a look at each of the Green Bay Packers position groups as they currently stand on the 90-man roster.

Within this series, I have been diving into each position, sharing my thoughts on what I’ve seen and heard during the handful of open practice sessions throughout OTAs and minicamp. I’ll also discuss my expectations for each position group, questions I still have, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Next up is the inside linebacker position. If you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them below.


Running back

Tight ends 

Offensive tackle

Interior offensive line

Wide receiver

Interior defensive line

Edge rusher

Current roster: De’Vondre Campbell, Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie, Tariq Carpenter, Eric Wilson, and Jimmy Phillips

– This is perhaps the most stable position on the Packers roster, which for a long time was not the case at linebacker. We know that Walker and Campbell will dominate the defensive snaps, while McDuffie, Carpenter, and Wilson all have defined roles as special teams players.

– If there is a question at the position, it could be whether the Packers roster four or five linebackers. For what it’s worth, I expect them to keep five, but going heavy at this position means going light at another. If Green Bay does end up considering rostering just four, then it will be between Wilson and Carpenter for that final spot. On one hand, Wilson can probably make the greater special teams impact in 2023, but Carpenter comes with more upside as a defender and is only entering Year 2 of his rookie deal.

– The reason I didn’t include McDuffie in that discussion is because towards the end of last season, he appeared to be the Packers’ third linebacker option. I also saw that during OTAs and minicamp as well.

– The linebacker play from the Packers in 2022 wasn’t bad by any means, but when you spend a first-round pick on the position (Quay Walker) while also spending money in free agency (De’Vondre Campbell), the hope is for more high-level consistency. Now, Campbell battled an injury while Walker went through some growing pains as a rookie, but a part of the formula that leads to a bounce-back year for the Green Bay defense includes improved overall play from these two linebackers.

– As the 2022 season progressed, where you could really see Walker’s development was in the run game. He became much more decisive in diagnosing the play, which allowed his explosiveness to take over when it came to filling gaps and getting to the ball carrier.

"“I think there was a consistent growth throughout,” said linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti. “It wasn’t like he would learn something and then unlearn it. I don’t think that was the case, so that was very encouraging.”"

–  Carpenter is making the position change to linebacker. While he was a big safety, he is now a very athletic linebacker. Prior to OTAs, defensive backs coach Ryan Downard discussed all the different ways that they could utilize Carpenter, which included as a pass rusher, and although versatility is a good thing, it’s also important for a young player to find a defined role and way to contribute. We will see if he can find that at linebacker.

– I mentioned this when discussing the edge rushers, but when pass rush coordinator Jason Rebrovich was asked how Walker fit in as a pass rusher, he replied with “yes.” Last season, Walker lined up on the defensive front 75 times, according to PFF.

– Despite not being signed until early October, Wilson was tied for first on the team in special teams tackles and was PFF’s highest-graded special teams player in all of football. On the Packers specifically, Wilson, McDuffie, and Carpenter were the top three players in terms of tackles–which, again, is why I think Green Bay ends up keeping five linebackers, especially with the pull Rich Bisaccia has.

– Perhaps the forgotten man in this linebacker room is SMU undrafted rookie Jimmy Phillips. There are two aspects of Phillips’ college career that really stand out: the first being he played a whopping 834 special teams snaps, and the second being that he was a very good tackler.

– I’ve written about this somewhat often, but success for the defense this season starts with stopping the run. And while that begins with the play of the defensive front, as run game coordinator Jerry Montgomery mentioned earlier this offseason, everyone on the defense has to be better, including the linebackers. This includes shedding blocks, filling gaps, and being more sound tacklers.

– With Walker’s versatility, the Packers have the flexibility to utilize him in a variety of ways, which they will do, but there is also the balance of making sure those different skill sets mesh with what the 2023 version of the Green Bay defense wants to accomplish and that Walker, as a young player, first becomes very good in specific roles before adding more to his plate.

"“He did a lot of different things for us last year,” said Olivadotti. “The biggest thing is how all of his skills are going fit into this defense because every year, it’s a new team and picture every year. So how it’s going to fit into this defense, it does give you a versatile tool to play with, and he’s very willing and learns it, wants to know, so that’s very helpful.“It’d be easy to say, ‘Hey, let’s use all of them at once,’ but you also want him to be good at what he’s good at and just add things to that to supplement what we need,”"