Those who have read my previous articles or listened to Pack to the Future know that I haven’t been a fan of Dom Capers for quite some time. But, those who listen to Pack to the Future also know that I’ve decided to take a more optimistic approach to the Packers defense this year. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and one more chance since he’ll be coaching the most talented group of defenders he’s had since the 2010 Super Bowl run.
A major key to the defense turning things around is going to be the play of the inside linebackers, a position this defense has struggled with for years now. I’m predicting that those struggles will come to an end this year, and these inside linebackers will turn the corner and turn some heads this season.
We know Clay Matthews will be moving back to his preferred outside linebacker position but that may not be a bad thing. Matthews did a fine job stepping up in an hour of need and playing a position he was not accustomed to, but he was never able to make the position his own.
The reason I expect this unit to take a major step forward is that the top three players at the position complement each other very well. Sam Barrington struggles in coverage, but is an excellent run stuffer. Rookie Blake Martinez isn’t particularly stout against the run, but has all the tools to be a good coverage linebacker. Jake Ryan is the key to the position. He’s shown promise in both areas and, if he progresses as expected, will be the best inside linebacker at Dom Capers’ disposal.
Assuming all three stay healthy, expect to see them flying all over the field next season. I see at least 100 tackles for Jake Ryan, 10 tackles for loss by Sam Barrington and 3 interceptions from Blake Martinez. These three young linebackers will be the centerfold of a rejuvenated Packers defense, the best we’ve seen since 2010.