Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson did things his own way. When building the Green Bay Packers roster, Thompson implemented a certain plan that he felt would best help the Packers. That meant building through the NFL Draft, developing those players, and not emphasizing certain positions. But those ways changed under current general manager Brian Gutekunst. He has shown he is not afraid to dip into free agency and he has addressed positions that Thompson turned his back on. One of those positions that have a new emphasis is the Green Bay Packers inside linebackers, which should excite Packers fans.
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Excitement Mounts over Green Bay Packers Inside Linebackers
Before last season, the Green Bay Packers defense struggled for several reasons. But the biggest, and the most consistent, flaw has been the lack of playmakers in the Green Bay Packers inside linebackers group.
Thompson rarely spent a high draft selection on an inside linebacker. Even in his first couple of seasons as the general manager, Gutekunst took a similar approach. During that span, the Green Bay Packers inside linebackers consisted of three types of players. Mid to late-round draft choices, undrafted free agents, and veteran players who were in the later stages of their careers. The results were underwhelming.
But there seems to be a new era when it comes to the Green Bay Packers inside linebackers. The Packers are no longer taking the cheap route. Instead, Gutekunst is valuing the position. By doing so, the Green Bay Packers defense should only improve.
Barry Sets the Stage for Inside Linebacker
Those who believe that inside linebacker is not important to an NFL defense better do not share their opinion with Joe Barry. Barry, the Packers defensive coordinator, is a true believer in the position. It should not come as a shock with considering Barry’s background.
Barry is an inside linebacker coach by trade. In his NFL coaching career, Barry has coached inside linebackers with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the then-San Diego Chargers, and before coming to Green Bay the Los Angeles Rams. His work with those three franchises no doubt led him to become the Packers defensive coordinator.
While Kirk Olivadotti holds the title of Green Bay Packers inside linebackers coach, Barry has a major say in the position. Barry understands the importance of the inside linebacker position and what it means to a defense. That importance was on full display in 2021. Barry deserved some credit for that, but another factor was the arrival of a veteran free-agent signee.
Campbell Arrival Brings New Energy to the Position
When Gutekunst signed free agent inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell late in training camp last season, many did not know what he would bring to the Green Bay Packers defense. A veteran who had stops with the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, many thought he would provide depth to the Green Bay Packers inside linebackers position. But Campbell did much more than that.
Campbell became an instant starter, starting 16 regular-season games for the Packers. Not only did he show he was capable of staying healthy, but he also became the leader of the Green Bay Packers inside linebackers. It was not just the fact he was a veteran, but his numbers displayed why he was the leader.
In his first season with the Packers, Campbell registered 132 combined tackles, with 88 solo-tackles. He also chalked up two sacks and two interceptions. His play helped him earn First-Team All-Pro honors. His was the first time a Green Bay Packer inside linebacker had earned that honor since legendary inside linebacker Ray Nitschke had done so.
Not only did his play in 2021 earn him that honor, but it also earned Campbell a new deal. The Packers re-signed Campbell to a five-year $50 million dollar deal. Locking Campbell up was just the first phase of Gutekunst’s new philosophy for the inside linebacker position. The next phase was finding a young player in this year’s NFL Draft to play alongside Campbell.
Packers Spend a First Round Pick on Inside Linebacker
With the top wide receivers off the board, many thought that Gutekunst would spend the first of the Packers two first-round picks on an edge pass rusher. It was pretty easy to connect the dots. Edge pass rusher is one of the positions Gutekunst has emphasized in his prior drafts.
However, that was not the case. Instead, Gutekunst surprised many by using the pick on a position that Gutekunst has not paid too much attention to by selecting Quay Walker, an inside linebacker out of Georgia. Walker fits well in the Packers new approach at inside linebacker.
While some fans might have been disappointed in Walker’s selection, they really should not be. At 6’4″ and 240 pounds with the ability to run a 4.52 in the forty dash, Walker represents the new era in today’s NFL inside linebacker. He is big, he can run, and he has the attributes to be a three-down linebacker.
With teaming up Walker next to Campbell, it gives the Packers two inside linebackers that not only are big but can also run. For so many years, the Packers have been stuck with linebackers who are smaller (Blake Martinez) or who do not have the speed to make plays behind the line of scrimmage (A.J. Hawk). If Campbell continues his play and Walker becomes the players the Packers envision, the Packers will have two inside linebackers that can be playmakers.
Walker’s Arrival Creates Depth at Inside Linebacker
Quay Walker is expected to be the starter next to Campbell for 2022. If that becomes reality, it will push last season’s starter, Krys Barnes, to the number three inside linebacker on the Packers defense.
While Barnes was a good story, an undrafted free agent signee, and made some plays, he was not going to make a lot of game-changing plays. With Walker now ahead of him, Barnes will be a solid backup to Campbell and Walker. It will also allow him to spend more time on special teams. His addition should delight new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
Barnes will not be the only inside linebacker that will be a big part of Bisaccia’s special teams either. Isaiah McDuffie was selected in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. A highly decorative linebacker at Boston College, McDuffie will be expected to be a major part of the Packers special teams. Along with that, he will be the Packers number four inside linebacker. He has some ability as an inside linebacker and in only his second season, he could be developed into a nice backup.
With the newfound depth at the position, it appears that Ty Summers will be left on the outside looking in. Summers was a developmental player, one who was expected to be a major contributor on special teams. But not only has he failed to show up on special teams, but he has also failed to show up on defense. When called on to play inside linebacker, Summers has looked lost and has been a weak link of the Packers defense.
Credit to Gutekunst for Changing Things Up
After failed draft picks like Oren Burks and Summers, Gutekunst deserves credit for changing things up. Maybe part of it is that Joe Barry wants capable inside linebackers. Whatever the reason, Gutekunst came to understand that the Packers cannot have average to below-average starting inside linebackers to win games.
His change in philosophy also shows how stupid the “you don’t need good inside linebackers in the NFL” thinking truly is. Around the NFL, most of the top NFL defenses have at least one very capable inside linebacker. If the Packers are going to be a team that wins with defense, they must have capable inside linebackers. It appears the light went off for Gutekunst and the Packers. None too soon either.