After last week’s news of Jake Ryan tearing his ACL, the inside linebacker corps are looking awfully thin in Green Bay. General manager Brian Gutekunst has already said he will be approaching the situation with patience, a move that might make some Packers fans groan and think back to Ted Thompson.
With Blake Martinez filling the first spot in the middle, the other will have to be earned by someone expecting to go into the season as a backup. For the time being, it looks as though third round pick Oren Burks is favored to take over Ryan’s role. After improving each season at Vanderbilt, the 6’3, 230-lb linebacker was drafted by the Packers, who were impressed with his athleticism and versatility. Burks played both inside and outside linebacker for the Commodores, and even spent time at safety.
Green Bay begins their preseason Thursday with the Tennessee Titans coming to Lambeau. With Aaron Rodgers likely to sit out, the battle at inside linebacker ought to be the focus of any Packer fanatic’s attention. The defense has been a problem over the years, but with Mike Pettine taking over the reigns this year was supposed to be better. Relying on so much youth could prove to be costly for the Packers, but with a healthy, experienced, and bolstered pass rush the younger defensive backs’ jobs should get easier.
Even if the inside linebackers end up looking terrible as the preseason unfolds, it is not too late for Gutekunst to sign a veteran to hold down the fort. Former Pro Bowler NaVorro Bowman remains without a team after his one year stint with the Raiders, and whispers about Green Bay being interested have circled. Whether it’s Burks, another rookie, Bowman, or another free agent, the Packers will need to sort out their second starting inside linebacker before the season opener at home against the Bears on September 9th.
Having Rodgers back at the helm will make any game seem winnable again to Packer fans, but without improving defensively Green Bay will struggle to get over the hump and back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.