The biggest position question mark on the entire Packers roster going into the 2017 NFL season is at inside linebacker. It is filled with guys who did see plenty of playing time last season but they still have very much to prove and work on, because that position is so critical in Dom Capers defense from stopping the run to stopping short pass attempts.
It is interesting to note that the Packers did not draft anyone for the inside linebacker position nor did they acquire anyone via free agency, so is the coaching staff all in for Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan? They may be indeed doing that, but they are also experimenting with a growing sensation in all of football: The hybrid safety-linebacker.
Fellow Creamcitycentral writer Reid Mueller pointed this out in his article about the strong safeties. Morgan Burnett and second-round pick Josh Jones were seeing time with the regular inside linebackers. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky on Monday, Jones was making impressive plays; breaking up passes, pressuring for would be sack and even getting an interception. Expect to see those hybrid safeties playing a lot at the linebacker position this season along with these players:
- Jake Ryan: Former Michigan Wolverine and entering his third year, Ryan is the Packers most experienced inside linebacker. In 14 games, last season he recorded 81 tackles but no sacks or forced turnovers. He will see a significant increase of playing time and will be asked of more this season because of his position of being the most experienced. The biggest question mark on him: Is he good enough to be a starter for the Packers? He must make big tackles, sacks and create big turnovers to prove that he is.
- Blake Martinez: Probably starting alongside Ryan and entering his second year, Martinez also has a lot to prove for him to be a starter in the NFL. In his rookie year, he recorded 65 tackles, a sack and an interception. As a rookie taken in the fourth round those stats are not bad and being 23 years old, he is still considerably raw, more so than Jake Ryan. Much like Ryan he will see a significant increase of playing time and will be asked to do much more. Along with Ryan he will also need to make those big plays and produce in order for the position to not be a weak spot on the defense.
- Joe Thomas: Listed behind Jake Ryan, Thomas saw a lot of playing time last season while recording 70 tackles and an interception. Coming from a small college and bouncing around practice squads not a lot was expected from Thomas last season but he ended up playing in 16 games due to teammate injuries. Thomas has in game experience and the drive to improve but physically he is limited. He will need more on the field time to improve if the Packers want to give it to him. Expect to see a lot of him on special teams.
- Jordan Tripp: A lowkey signing Tripp has spent his first two NFL seasons bouncing around teams. Drafted in 2014 in the fifth round by the Miami Dolphins, he soon made his way to Seattle where he played in seven games last season. Tripp has incredible athleticism for an inside linebacker which fits well because the Packers value those traits in their linebackers. He ran a 4.67 40-yard dash and posted 37.5” vertical at the Combine while weighing 234 pounds. Tripp is a true wildcard for the team and it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Packers find a way for him to an asset on defense. He is instantly one of the team’s best athletes and he can play all three linebacker positions. Having to play Morgan Burnett at linebacker, the Packers need linebacker depth and him playing well would seriously take the ease off of Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. Expect to see him on the field a lot during the preseason and barring absolute horrible play, he will probably see significant playing time during the regular season.