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Green Bay Packers Could Seek Veteran Free Agents After Jake Ryan Injury

The lack of bodies and experience at inside linebacker may force the Green Bay Packers to look toward veteran free agents that remain on the market.
Jake Ryan

The Green Bay Packers are concluding their second week of training camp and there have already been several injuries on the defensive side of the ball. It appears as if defensive tackle Mike Daniels and safety Kentrell Brice will be returning to the team sooner than later, but linebacker Jake Ryan doesn’t find himself so lucky. The fourth-year pro appeared to suffer a significant knee injury during camp on Monday. It was later confirmed that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will be lost for the 2018 season.

Ryan has been a starter next to Blake Martinez in the defense’s base 3-4 alignment the past two years and is a prominent player on early downs. General manager Brian Gutekunst has expressed that he will be patient and look internally to younger players to fill the void left by Ryan. The lack of bodies and experience at inside linebacker may force the Packers to look toward veteran free agents that remain on the market.

Green Bay Packers Could Seek Veteran Free Agents After Jake Ryan Injury

Possible Internal Solutions

There are several different ways the Packers could solve the hole on the inside. If the coaching staff is insistent upon promoting a player currently on the roster, they will have to choose between several options with no NFL game experience. Third-round pick Oren Burks should get the first crack at filling in for Ryan. The converted safety was viewed by many analysts as a sub-package defender that could cover tight ends and running backs. Burks will have to become a more physical, downhill tackler to fill Ryan’s shoes on run plays, but his versatile skillset could compliment Martinez in the base defense. Burks’ ability to grasp the playbook and show consistent growth at the linebacker position will be key factors as to whether he can play a prominent role in coordinator Mike Pettine‘s defense.

There are only a few other players currently practicing at inside linebacker. Second-year pro Ahmad Thomas has begun to make a name for himself on special teams and was lining up with the second-team defense before Ryan went down. Both Pettine and head coach Mike McCarthy have commented on Thomas’ impressive coverage ability as another former safety. C.J. Johnson and Naashon Hughes were both signed as undrafted free agents but should be competing for a spot on the practice squad. The Packers do have the option of moving Clay Matthews inside more on early downs where he has had some success. The only problem is the lack of depth on the edge behind Matthews. One injury to Martinez and the Packers will be facing a major issue throughout the linebacker corps.

Free Agent Fits

Both Bowman and Dansby have experience playing middle linebacker in a base 3-4 alignment. Bowman was one of the most dominant players at the position over the course of his seven years with the San Francisco 49ers. He spent last season with the Oakland Raiders and continued to be a strong presence against the run. Entering his age 30 season, Bowman shouldn’t require more than a one-year deal at or near the veteran’s minimum to chase a ring in Green Bay. He could be a solid investment to a Packer defense lacking experience at linebacker. It’s worth noting that Ahmad Brooks, who lined up next to Bowman for several years, was brought in as a free agent addition right before the season began last year.

Dansby has been a journeyman over his 14-year career, making most of his impact with the Arizona Cardinals. He has continued to be productive well into his 30s, recording over 90 tackles every year since 2007. Dansby has the awareness and veteran savvy that has helped him stay adept against the pass even though he’s lost a step at age 36. He also manned Pettine’s defense in Cleveland when he was the head coach of the Browns, so there is some familiarity with the Packers’ system.

Reid is included on this list as a talented player that fits Pettine’s defensive scheme but would cause some realignment. Reid is one of the more young and talented players still on the market. The sixth-year safety can play near the line of scrimmage or over the top. The Packers currently have a battle between second-year player Josh Jones and the currently-injured Brice for the starting strong safety spot, but Reid is more established than either. Pettine’s defense could greatly benefit by having two experienced safeties on the back end while sliding Jones to middle linebacker where he flashed as a rookie.

Honorable Mention

Both Dumervil and Hali are past their primes but could still produce on the edge if the Packers were forced to move Matthews inside. Dumervil had an impressive six and a half sacks last year at age 33. Hali lost most of last season and hasn’t received much interest on the open market after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Both have experience in a 3-4 defense and could add to the pass-rush rotation at outside linebacker.

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