DEFENSIVE LINEMAN DEPTH CHART
Defensive Tackle: Mike Daniels
Mike Daniels is the man, I feel, was responsible for getting the Packers to be a bit more physical. He needed some nasty as Greg Popovich once said. Although the Packers’ defense isn’t on the rugged level yet, they have become a bit more physical and Daniels’ play is indicative of that. I already know what you’re going to say, “But Tristain, Daniels only had 49 tackles, 4 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. How is that impactful?) In a base 3-4 defense, this coming from one of your lineman is impactful. Add to that the fact he is taking on multiple blockers to help others on the defense make plays, and you have your top defensive tackle.
Defensive End: Letroy Guion
Stat watchers will look at Letroy Guion’s numbers from last season and tell you he isn’t worth the 3 year, $11.25 million the Packers signed him to. On the surface, 21 tackles and a 3 game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, wouldn’t warrant this kind of a contract. I look at things more deeply than what’s on the surface. The tape doesn’t lie. Guion is a pressure cooker. Meaning, he puts constant pressure on the opposing offense’s QB. This causes hurries which causes mistakes. Just because Guion doesn’t have sacks or interceptions to tally on his record last season, doesn’t mean he’s been any less impactful. Look for Guion to play some Nose Tackle as well.
Elephant: Datone Jones
I can see all of your eyebrows raised. You see the term “Elephant” and immediately associate it Julius Peppers. In addition, you see I listed Datone Jones in this position. No it is not a typo. No I haven’t lost mind. Yes I know; 51 tackles, 8 sacks and a one game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy (The annual Packers defensive suspension.) over a 3 year career doesn’t exactly incite confidence. Those things happened and I understand all of your feelings about it. Thing is, the tape doesn’t lie. When Dom Capers decided to use Jones in the Elephant role, much like he does Peppers, Jones’s play was much better late in the season. For this reason there is some encouragement (albeit little) Jones will be the factor the Packers hoped he would be when they drafted him 26th overall in 2013.
Nose Tackle: Kenny Clark?
BJ Raji’s absence will be an impactful one. Like him or dislike him, there is no question he performed yeoman’s work in the trenches. He is the prototypical nose tackle. Take on multiple blockers and clog the middle of the field to stall the opposition’s run game. The space heater needed for a good run defense. Raji’s absence will be felt negatively… unless newly drafted Kenny Clark, becomes the answer. Clark was a two year starter at UCLA and played most of his time at nose tackle in a 4-3 scheme, with some one-technique defensive end play as well. Clark was rated to be drafted in the 27-34 range, which he was. The Packers scooped him up at 27. Whether or not I like this pick is another story for another day, but more times than not if Ted (Thompson) drafts you in the first round, you are going to play.
LINEBACKERS DEPTH CHART
ROLB & LOLB: Julius Peppers & Clay Matthews
Was there any doubt about these two book ends? After a season and a half of Clay Matthews wrecking shop on the inside, he moves back to the position that made him a household name (and the reason offensive coaches lose sleep), Outside Linebacker. Combine that with Julius Peppers’ continued high level of play and you have the makings of a devastating pass rush. Look for these two to ruin teams’ offensive plans at a stadium near you.
Inside Linebacker: Jake Ryan
50 tackles. What? You were waiting for more out of Jake Ryan? Well so was I and many other people. Inside Linebacker has been a position of need for the Packers for many years now. Jake Ryan came in and did a serviceable job, but there is so much left to be desired. Ryan is a student of the game and I expect improvement out of him this season. He does have competition in the form of 4th round draft pick, Blake Martinez, who has been turning heads in OTAs and Mini Camp. I do believe Ryan will hold onto his spot with improved play this season.
Middle Linebacker: Sam Barrington (For Now)
A tackle in 2 quarters. Sam Barrington’s stats from the 2015 season that was cut short by a foot injury that put him out for the season. This is the bugaboo about Barrington. We have seen him make impact plays when healthy. Barrington is a very instinctual player, who is able to be in the right spot at the right time… when healthy. Barrington’s inability to stay healthy is one reason why Blake Martinez is pushing him more for a starting spot than he is Jake Ryan. Still recovering from foot surgery, Barrington has watched Martinez take the first team defensive snaps in OTAs and minicamp. It is said Martinez is catching on quickly, a better coverage linebacker, and impressing coaches. If this trend continues, Barrington is going to be on the sidelines healthy or not. As of right now, his work (when healthy) warrants him a starting inside linebacker spot.
The Milwaukee Bucks were well over the .500 mark before the Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams trade. They have been well under the .500 mark since that trade. Why am I bringing this up? There is a lesson to be learned from this. You don’t mess with what’s working. I’m not going to tinker with this secondary’s depth chart because it is stellar. This unit was 6th in the NFL in passing defense, giving up 227.6 passing yards per game and coming up with 16 picks. The hallmarks of a good Dom Capers defense are strong coverage that takes the ball away and is able to hold their own in coverage and in pass rush situations. Strong coverage allows the pass rushers more time to get to the opposing QB. We saw this quite a bit last season and it was all thanks to this secondary. Sam Shields and Damarious Randall are quickly becoming what Charles Woodson and Al Harris were; a versatile, shut down cornerback combo. A healthy Morgan Burnett has always benefited this defense. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is becoming a premiere safety and Micah Hyde continues to be a Swiss army knife. Put him anywhere and he’s going to make a play. I didn’t even mention LaDarius Gunter. Even after the loss of Casey Hayward to free agency, this secondary remains deep and will continue their dominance in stopping the pass.
This defense is on the verge of being championship caliber. If you’re able to bring a defense week in and week out, you will always have a shot to win. There were many weeks last season, this defense was the sole reason the Packers were able to hang around in games with a chance to win them. If this defense continues to progress, and the right pieces are put in place, this defense will be a huge reason the Green Bay Packers hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl 51 Champions.