Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.

Green Bay Packers: D is for Disappointing

Dom Capers II

This was going to be the year that the defense of the Green Bay Packers was going to approach the success it had had in the first two years that Dom Capers was the coordinator of the unit.

In 2009, which was the first year Capers became defensive coordinator, the defense was ranked No. 2 in the NFL. In 2010, the year the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the defense was ranked No. 5 in total defense.

Since then, the Packers have not come close to that success. From 2011 through 2016, the defense of the Packers has been ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd.

Through nine games in 2017 the Packers are ranked 25th in total defense in the league, as the D is allowing an average of 357.4 yards per game. And based on the performance the defense had on Monday night versus the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, don’t expect the rankings to get any better throughout the rest of the 2017 season.

Just to illustrate how bad and inept the defense was on Monday night, the Lions did not have to punt once all evening. That is the first time that has happened for Detroit since the 1971 season.

Quarterback Matt Stafford just carved up the defense of the Packers, as there was little to no pass pressure from the Green Bay Front 7. The Packers did get one sack, but that was only when the Lions attempted a flea flicker pass.

In the game, Stafford completed 26-of-33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. That adds up to a passer rating of 132.4.

That can’t happen against a Capers’ defense. Not if it wants to be successful. The key to any defense Capers runs, is putting pressure on the quarterback and disrupting his rhythm.

That isn’t happening in 2017 and that hasn’t happened consistently since 2010 either.

Currently, the the Packers are ranked 20th in passing defense, but that stat does not tell the total story.  The Packers are ranked 25th in the NFL in allowing opposing quarterbacks to have a very solid passer rating of 95.7.

And this is with a new and improved secondary, as the team drafted cornerback Kevin King in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft and safety Josh Jones in the second round. Plus, the team added cornerback Davon House in free agency, which is his second stint with the team.

But even when there is more talent and athleticism in the secondary, that won’t lead to success if there isn’t pass pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, which is supposed to lead to sacks, incompletions and interceptions.

It also doesn’t help when the two starting safeties of the Packers have largely been non-factors this season. Morgan Burnett has been hampered by hamstring and groin injuries, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been largely invisible after going to the Pro Bowl and having second-team All-Pro status in 2016.

But again, the the number one reason why a Capers defense is successful is by bringing pass pressure and getting sacks. And that’s not happening this season.

The Packers are tied for 28th in the NFL with 13 sacks. That’s barely over one sack a game on average.

Clay Matthews can still play, but he is not the pass-rushing force he once was, as he has just 2.5 sacks so far this season. Nick Perry has been hampered by a broken hand, but does lead the team in sacks with four.

Meanwhile, Julius Peppers, who had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions (both for touchdowns) in three years with the Packers, left the team this past offseason via free agency and now has 7.5 sacks for the Carolina Panthers.

It is not known how much or even if the Packers made an offer to Peppers to stay in Green Bay, or if Peppers just wanted to go back to the place he started his NFL career and where he calls home.

No matter, Peppers would have definitely helped the pass rush for the Packers this season. Much better than the players who back up Matthews and Perry at outside linebacker currently, that’s for sure.

Kyler Fackrell has been almost non-existent when he’s on the field, as he has just nine total tackles, zero sacks and multiple missed assignments. Ahmad Brooks can help when he’s healthy, but he’s missed the last three games due to concussion/back issues.

Vince Biegel IV

Fourth-round pick Vince Biegel saw his first action of the season Monday night at OLB, after starting the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. It’s too early to see how Biegel might be able to help the pass rush.

Speaking of draft picks, general manager Ted Thompson traded back four spots when the Packers had the 29th pick in the first round.  The Packers then selected King in the second round with the 33rd pick of the draft, plus got another fourth-round pick which they used to select Biegel.

King looks like he has some excellent upside with his size, speed and athleticism. But Thompson could have stayed where he was at No. 29 in the draft and selected OLB T.J. Watt, who is having a great rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As a matter of fact, I had the Packers taking Watt in both my first mock draft and my last.

Watt has 28 total tackles, four sacks and one pick for a Pittsburgh defense that has gotten back it’s old swagger. The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in total defense and are tied for fourth in sacks with 26. Opposing QBs only have a 74.4 passer rating against Pittsburgh as well.

That is how the a Capers defense is supposed to function.

Since Mike McCarthy hired Capers in 2009, it’s not like the Packers haven’t been successful. In fact, they have been very prosperous. The team has been to the postseason for eight straight years going into this season. That includes one Super Bowl win, three appearances in the NFC title game and five NFC North titles.

But it is also in the postseason where we have seen some of the cracks and deficiencies of a Capers-run defense. Granted, in some case there have been injury issues, like in the NFC title game versus Atlanta last season, but for the most part, the defense has been exposed in many of those games.

Since the 2011 postseason, the Packers have played in 11 games, winning five of them. In the six losses, the Packers have given up an average of 33.8 points per game. That won’t get it done.

Plus, in those same six losses, the Packers offense averaged 22.3 points per game. Three touchdowns per game usually gets a NFL team a win in the postseason.

So, what to do? I’ve heard a lot of talk from Packer Nation about firing Capers immediately. That will not happen. I do believe the writing is on the wall for a change this coming offseason though.

But right now, the Packers have some other big issues. The team is on a downward spiral due to the broken collarbone suffered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers lost that game and the two games since then, to see their record fall to 4-4 and two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North.

To make matters even worse, right offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a torn ACL against the Lions on Monday night and is out for the season.

Brett Hundley has struggled since taking over for Rodgers, but in the game versus the Lions, No. 7 showed some definite improvement.

Rodgers can come back from IR (injured reserve) in Week 15, but that will only happen if he his collarbone is fully healed and also if the Packers are still in postseason contention.

Aaron Rodgers after game with the Lions

This is what Rodgers said about his coming back last week when he spoke to the media.

“I want to be healthy. That’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said last Friday. “But if we’re healthy in eight weeks and it would make sense to come back, then I’m going to come back.

“The only reason to come back would be that I’m healed completely. If that doesn’t happen in eight weeks, there’s not even a conversation.”

There also won’t be a conversation if the Packers are out of contention for a spot in the postseason. There would be no reason to risk further injury to Rodgers for just the two remaining games of the season.

And based on the way that all three phases of the football team are struggling right now, the postseason does not look likely.

I do see the offense getting better behind Hundley at QB, but will that improvement be enough to overcome the issues that both the defense and special teams have right now?

To me, the answer is no.

Now, things could change. Maybe Biegel and fellow rookie Montravius Adams will add some spark to the pass rush. Adams would most certainly help, as the defensive line of the Packers has just two sacks this season, with Mike Daniels leading the way with 1.5.

But somehow things have to change on the defensive side of the ball. The good news is that I’m still seeing effort from the defensive players. Blake Martinez is playing exceptional and is fourth in the NFL with 74 tackles.

But the scheme is not working. Maybe that’s because Capers doesn’t have the players he needs to make it more successful. If that’s the case, then part of the blame need to go to Thompson.

Still, Capers has been defensive coordinator for the Packers now for nine years. Based on what has happened this season and looking at the totality of the work done by Capers in his tenure in Green Bay, I don’t see Capers returning for a 10th season.

 

Green Bay Packers: Looking at the 53-Man Roster Heading Into Week 1

mike-mccarthy

The Green Bay Packers have certainly put together a very interesting 53-man roster heading into the opening game of the season versus the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.

The Packers are just three days away from that game, which will take place under very hot and humid conditions in northeastern Florida.

One of the most surprising aspects of the roster is that four undrafted rookies made the team. It’s not surprising that an undrafted rookie made the team, as it seems to happen every year for one or two players, but four is almost unheard of.

Three of the four undrafted rookies are defensive backs. They are Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins. All three of those players had fabulous camps, plus also shined in preseason games. With the addition of those three players, the Packers now have 11 defensive backs on the roster.

The other undrafted rookie who made the club was quarterback Joe Callahan. In a recent story, I wrote that Callahan was the offensive MVP for the Packers this preseason. Even with that, I still didn’t believe that the Packers would keep No. 6 on their roster. But indeed, Callahan made the club.

“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video. I’m very, very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity. I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.”

Another surprise on the roster was seeing the Packers keeping seven wide receivers. In the McCarthy era, the team has kept five receivers for the most part and sometimes even six. But seven? Time will tell how all of the receivers will be utilized.

The seven receivers are Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis.

To even get to seven, the Packers had to cut Geronimo Allison, who had a great training camp. The Packers were able to add Allison to the practice squad.

The kicking game of the Packers also went through some alterations before the current 53-man roster was set.

First, the Packers cut veteran punter Tim Masthay last week, after it appeared that he had won a training camp punting dual versus undrafted rookie Peter Mortell. But even after Mortell was released, the Packers thought they could still do better, so they cut Masthay and brought in Jacob Schrum, who punted for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2015.

Schrum punted very well in the last preseason game in Kansas City and locked up a roster spot.

Then the Packers released longsnapper Ricky Lovato in the final cut, which meant that the team needed a new longsnapper. The Packers actually brought back their old longsnapper, Brett Goode, who handled those duties from 2008 until late last season when he tore an ACL.

The Packers also made one waiver claim, when the team picked up rookie running back Jhurell Pressley from the Minnesota Vikings. Pressley was timed at 4.38 in the 40 at his pro day at New Mexico. Pressley gained 2,725 yards (a 6.9 average) and scored 35 touchdowns in his career as a Lobo.

The most shocking development in the final roster cuts was when the Packers released left guard Josh Sitton. That release stuck out like a sore thumb, or in Sitton’s case, a sore toe.

Sitton is considered one of the best guards in the NFL. Over the past four seasons, Sitton had been named to three Pro Bowls and was named second-team All-Pro twice.

As good as Sitton has played throughout his career in Green Bay, many observers saw a drop off in his performance last season. A lot of that could be blamed on injury issues.

Sitton has had back issues for a couple of years now. Plus, in 2014, Sitton tore a ligament below his left big toe midway through the season and that injury hampered him all year long.

And in training camp in 2015, Sitton disclosed that the toe injury had not yet fully healed. Last season, the Packers allowed Sitton to miss a number of the practice sessions to rest and rehab his toe and back issues, but it was pretty apparent that Sitton’s performance on the field was affected by his injury issues.

That situation may have played a part into why Sitton was released. Another reason was the fact that four offensive linemen, including Sitton, would be unrestricted free agents after the 2016 season. The other three linemen are David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang and JC Tretter.

According to an USA Today Network-Wisconsin report, the Packers reportedly told both Sitton and Lang that their contract situation would not be discussed until after the 2016 season.

On Monday, Lang confirmed that report that he and Sitton were told their contract negotiations would be put on hold while the Packers worked on younger players’ contracts during the season.

That means that Bakhtiari and Tretter were bigger priorities in terms of extending their contracts, as opposed to Sitton and Lang.

josh-sitton-ii

Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network-Wisconsin also put out a very interesting article  the other day which talked about how Vince Lombardi often looked to move on from older players on his roster. Dougherty gave many examples from the that era, which saw players like Jim Ringo, Bill Quinlan, Dan Currie, Bobby Dillon, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger move on from the Packers.

Dougherty compared that history with the release of Sitton, who turned 30 back in June.

Included in that same piece was some insight from an NFL source. The source said that in the eyes of the Green Bay organization, Sitton had become haughty and uncommunicative.

When asked about why he decided to release Sitton, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t really add any insight.

“I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said. “Not right now, no.”

Thompson did however have a comment about the former No. 71 of the Packers.

“I will say this,” Thompson added. “Josh Sitton is a heck of a football player and a good teammate. He’s one of the better picks I’ve ever made.”

After his release, Sitton didn’t burn any bridges with the Packers via any comments and instead quickly signed a three-year deal with the divisional rival Chicago Bears.

The bottom line is that an issue or a variable of issues precipitated this shocking release.

Before training camp started for the Packers, I asked NFL scout Chris Landry about how Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense of Packers will perform in 2016, compared to 2015.

“I’m not worried about Aaron,” Landry said. “I’m more concerned about the offensive line. That will dictate how effective they will be running the football and that’s going to determine the protection level and what he [Rodgers] can do in the passing game.

“Listen, you never know, but you hope for good health, better health. They [the Packers] have got weapons. I think they have better weapons than they have had in the past. But to me, the success of the offense is going to come down to the offensive line play and how well they are able to hold up there.

“If they do, this offense can flip around and be one of the eight or ten best offenses in the league and be a big, big factor for them going deep into the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t even win their division, because I think this Minnesota team is pretty good and pretty consistent.

“I think it’s pretty clear where the issues are. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I like at least some of the things I’ve seen. The offensive line to me is one you have to see and grow and develop. They won’t be as good in Week 1 as they will be in Week 7 or 8, but I want to see the progress there. That will determine ultimately how good this team will be.”

Landry said this when he assumed Sitton would be the starting left guard. It appears now that it will be Lane Taylor starting at left guard with the release of Sitton.

In addition to that, center Corey Linsley has missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and will start the season on the PUP list. In the absence of Linsley, Tretter has manned the center position and has had a great camp.

Still, questions still linger on the offensive line. Can Taylor do the job at left guard? No. 65 is an effective run-blocker, but can struggle at times with his pass protection.

Also, what is the next course of action if Taylor doesn’t play effectively? Don Barclay would most likely get the next shot at left guard, as he has also had a great camp since he moved inside from offensive tackle and has manned the center and guard positions this summer.

We shall see how things develop on the offensive line. If the line does hold up, the offense should be much improved with all the weapons Rodgers will have at his disposal.

Nelson is back after missing the entire 2015 season because of a torn ACL, while the Packers also added tight end Jared Cook in free agency.

In the running game, Eddie Lacy had an excellent camp/preseason and looks much like the back who performed so well in 2013 and 2014.

The defense has also made some improvements. The secondary looks to be the biggest strength of the defense. There is talent everywhere, plus the depth is outstanding.

The inside linebacker position looks to be solidified with the addition of rookie Blake Martinez, who appears like he will be given the duties of a three-down linebacker.

Blake Martinez II

Blake Martinez

Martinez will be paired with Jake Ryan at inside linebacker, with only Joe Thomas in reserve. That is because the Packers waived Sam Barrington. If injuries occurred at the position, Clay Matthews can move back inside or the Packers could simply call up Carl Bradford, who had an excellent camp and preseason.

The Packers are also very deep at outside linebacker, with Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott and Kyle Fackrell manning the position.

The defensive line is a bit short-handed with only five linemen on the roster. They are Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion and Kenny Clark. The reason the group is lacking in numbers is because Mike Pennel is serving a four-game suspension.

The Packers also have the option of using both Peppers and Jones on the line in passing situations.

Special teams improved quite a bit last year under the leadership of Ron Zook, who took over as coordinator in 2015. After finishing a NFL-worst 32nd in 2014, Zook had his units climb up 15 spots to be ranked 17th last season.

Although there are still question marks about the punting situation, kicker Mason Crosby is one of the best in the business at his position. Plus, before his ACL injury, Goode was as automatic as they came as a longsnapper.

The speed of the special teams should be excellent, especially with the additions on the roster at defensive back and wide receiver.

Finally, in looking at the current 53-man roster, it’s definitely still a fluid situation. Moves will have to be made after both Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson serve their four-game suspensions.

In addition, the Packers may add a free agent who is considered a vested veteran. The defensive line is one place where a player like that might be added. Players who might be able to help the Packers there include Terrance Knighton, Red Bryant or former Packer Cullen Jenkins.

By signing a player like that after Week 1 of the season means that the player’s salary would not be guaranteed for the entire season, which it would be if they opened the season on the 53-man roster.

Adding a defensive lineman during the season has helped out the Packers on a couple of occasions in recent history. Examples are Howard Green and Grady Jackson.

Time will tell how the 2016 Packers will fare this season. The opening act starts on Sunday afternoon in hot and humid Jacksonville, Florida.

Ironically, Jacksonville is the place where Sitton was born.

Green Bay Packers: Inside Linebacker is Suddenly a Position of Strength

Blake Martinez II

Linebacker Blake Martinez

You have to hand it to Ted Thompson. Yes, he has his share of critics, but the depth he has assembled for the 2016 Green Bay Packers is the best I have seen since Thompson first started his tenure as general manager in 2005.

Since Thompson brought in Mike McCarthy as head coach in 2006, the Packers have been as successful as any team in the NFL.The Packers have had a 104-55-1 record during that time, which breaks down to a .653 winning percentage.

The Packers have also gone to the playoffs eight times, won five NFC North titles and also won Super Bowl XLV.

This year, it seems like almost every position is deep. Especially if one looks at the wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back positions.

There certainly will be some very difficult cuts when the final 53-man roster is configured on September 3.

One position that was considered a weakness in 2015, has all of a sudden become a strength. That would be the inside linebacker position. At least based on the play of the linebackers vying for spots there in training camp and in preseason games.

In 2015, for the second consecutive year, Clay Matthews moved inside to man one spot. No. 52 did well enough to earn another bid to the Pro Bowl. But the other inside linebacker position was in a state of flux all season.

Sam Barrington suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 and was lost for the year because of the injury. Nate Palmer then stepped in and was third on the team in tackles (80) for the season, but he never flashed any big plays, plus gave up too many.

That is why rookie Jake Ryan got an opportunity to play later in the season, as he started five games. No. 47 also started the two postseason games that the Packers played in. Ryan looked more comfortable with each and every start. Ryan averaged eight tackles a game in his seven overall starts.

One of the biggest issues that the Packers had last season was using one of the inside linebackers as a cover linebacker on passing plays. The job ended up going to Joe Thomas. Thomas was okay in coverage, but not great.

The Packers have certainly changed the landscape at inside linebacker this year with two big changes.

For one, the team decided that Matthews will move back to outside linebacker, which is his more natural position and allows him to better use his speed.

Also, the Packers drafted Blake Martinez of Stanford in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft.

So far, in OTAs, training camp and preseason games, the Packers have to be thrilled with the way Martinez has performed.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how well Martinez has been playing.

Bottom line, Martinez looks to be a three-down linebacker. No. 50 will play in the base, the nickel and the dime.

It appeared that Ryan would be playing next to him at inside linebacker, at least based on the OTAs and the early part of training camp. However, a hamstring injury put Ryan on the shelf for a couple of weeks and he has just this week returned to practice.

That situation opened the door for Barrington, who recently came off the PUP list. Barrington has looked good in his limited playing time so far, similar to how he played in the second half of the 2014 season when he became a starter.

In terms of roster spots, I believe that Martinez, Ryan and Barrington are locks to make the team.

Carl Bradford

Linebacker Carl Bradford

But two other players have looked exceptional in the two preseason games so far.

One player is Thomas, who has bulked up a bit and been very steady. The other player is Carl Bradford, the former fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Bradford is playing like the light has finally been turned on for him in terms of what he should be doing in his role on defense.

Both players are playing well overall so far this preseason and both have flashed big play ability.

Both Thomas (South Carolina State) and Bradford (Arizona State) were tackling machines in college and are playing like that now.

The key for both of them is to continue the momentum they have created in the next two preseason games. If that happens, the Packers will have some difficult decisions to make.

The odds are pretty strong that the Packers will keep either Thomas or Bradford. Especially with Ryan just coming back from his hamstring woes and Barrington coming off an ankle injury which cost him an entire season.

There is also a chance that the Packers might keep both Thomas and Bradford. That would mean keeping five inside linebackers on the roster.

Sound farfetched? Not if the Packers keep 11 linebackers on their roster, which is what I believe they might do.

The four  outside linebackers who would be locks on the team would be Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Datone Jones. Jayrone Elliott, Lerentee McCray and rookie Kyle Fackrell are fighting for the other two spots, if the team kept six OLBs.

Based on history, the odds are strong that Fackrell will be kept, seeing the team invested a third-round pick on him.

That being the case, it might come down to Elliott and McCray battling for the final spot.

Being able to play well on special teams will probably be the overriding factor for anyone on the bubble fighting for a roster spot at linebacker.

A Scout’s Take on Linebacker Blake Martinez of the Green Bay Packers

Blake Martinez

Photo: Mark Hoffman

Although it’s still fairly early in training camp for the Green Bay Packers, no rookie has exhibited himself better than inside linebacker Blake Martinez.

As it stands right now, Martinez has shown the defensive coaching staff enough to be on the field at all times. So when the Packers play their base defense, or are in their nickel or dime looks, expect to see No. 50 on the field.

The nickel and dime looks constitute about 75% of the defenses that the Packers play in a given game.

Not bad for a compensatory pick in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft, which was announced by former Packers great Jerry Kramer.

The 6’2″, 237-pound Martinez had been a two-year starter for the Stanford Cardinal. In those two years, Martinez had 243 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, 12 passes defended and had five picks.

In 2014, Martinez was named honorable mention in the Pac-12 at linebacker, while in 2015 was named first-team All-Pac-12.

Martinez ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard dash as the NFL Scouting Combine, but he improved that mark to 4.67 at his pro day.

The former Cardinal star has impressed the Packers since his arrival in Green Bay.

Just ask head coach Mike McCarthy.

“He looks very comfortable,” McCarthy said back in the middle of June. “I think he’s done a really nice job transitioning from the base defense to the sub defense, his command, the echoing of the calls. He’s very bright. Quick. And he definitely is a very instinctive player. He’s off to a very good start.”

Once training camp started in late July, Martinez continued to impress, as he practiced with the starters in the base, nickel and dime.

Martinez showed that he could play the dime scheme that the Packers utilize at Stanford, and that has continued in training camp thus far.

“Right now base and nickel, mainly, and then I’ve been running with the 1s in the dime package and stuff like that,” Martinez said. “I’ve been working on it and doing what they need me to do, as long as I can get the job done.”

And No. 50 is getting the job done, at least to the satisfaction of the coaching staff.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers talked about how studious Martinez is when he talked with the media on Wednesday.

“He’s [Martinez] an attention to detail guy,” Capers said. “If he doesn’t know it, he’s going to ask. There’s going to be errors, because this is the first time he has seen a lot of these things. He normally doesn’t make the same error twice.”

I had an opportunity last week to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show about Martinez.

I told Landry that Martinez was getting the starter’s reps in all the defensive schemes, including the dime.

“Well, Blake is very instinctive,” Landry said. “He plays the run well and he understands his landmarks in coverage. He makes good checks, which is one of the reasons why they [the Packers] liked him. He can be a three-down guy.”

The Packers won’t know for sure how good Martinez can be until they actually see him play on the field in game situations. Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame game versus the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday night was cancelled due to poor field conditions.

But on Friday night, the Packers will get a chance to see Martinez and a lot of the younger players when they take on the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.

If Martinez continues to play like he has at OTAs and in training camp, he looks to be a definite starter at one of the inside linebacker positions and to be on the field with the defense at all times.

Second-year  linebacker Jake Ryan has been playing next to Martinez  on the inside in the OTAs and in training camp, but now will be pushed by the return of Sam Barrington, who just came off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list on Tuesday night.

Barrington started seven games in 2014 at inside linebacker for the Packers and started in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears in 2015, before suffering an ankle injury which put him out for the entire season.

Ryan started five games at inside linebacker as a rookie in 2015 and played in 14 games overall.

So while the battle to become one of the starters at inside linebacker between Ryan and Barrington looks to be very interesting, Martinez has so far proven that he can be trusted to be a three-down player at the other inside linebacker position.

Martinez gets to show that the proof is in the pudding, starting on Friday night against the Browns in Green Bay.

Recapping Day 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Jerry announcing the pick

According to NFL scout Chris Landry, the Green Bay Packers did quite well for themselves on the first two days of the 2016 NFL draft. I wrote an article about that on Saturday before Day 3 of the draft.

I had a chance to talk with legendary guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers a couple of hours before the draft began on the final day of the draft. Kramer was in Green Bay, along with former Packers great Dave Robinson, to announce the selections that the team made in the 4th and 5th rounds of the draft in Vince Lombardi’s “office” in the Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field.

Kramer asked me if I had any insight about what the Packers might do on Day 3. The first thing I told Jerry was that I expected the Packers to select an inside linebacker. I also said that I thought the Packers would add one more offensive lineman and one more defensive lineman.

I said that football games are won in the trenches more times than not. Nobody knows this better than No. 64. After all, Kramer was part of five NFL championship teams in Green Bay, plus was named as the only guard on the NFL’s 50th anniversary first-team.

In the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Dallas Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. The Packers could have kicked a field goal at that point to tie the game at 17-17.

But coach Lombardi decided to go for the win. If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short of the end zone, the game is over.

Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

Kramer was also a huge part of the signature play of the Lombardi Packers. The play was the power sweep. The opposing defenses knew the play was coming, but there was little they could do about it.

Kramer, along with Fuzzy Thurston and later Gale Gillingham, would pull either left or right and create gaping holes for the running backs, as they would venture out in the open field and knock over linebackers and defensive backs.

A lot of the games that the Packers won in those days were won because of the stellar play at the line of scrimmage, by both the offensive and defensive lines of the Packers.

That is also why defensive end Willie Davis, defensive tackle Henry Jordan, center Jim Ringo and offensive tackle Forrest Gregg are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There is absolutely no question that Kramer deserves to have a place in Canton besides his teammates.

It’s true that players like Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Wood and Robinson received most of the headlines on those great Green Bay teams, but it was the play inside the trenches which created the opportunities for a lot of those big moments.

Back to the draft. It was somewhat coincidental that the first player who the Packers drafted in Round 4 was inside linebacker Blake Martinez of Stanford. Kramer did a splendid job in announcing the 131st pick of the draft, which was a compensatory pick for Green Bay.

Blake Martinez

Blake Martinez of Stanford

Martinez was certainly the best option the Packers had in selecting an inside linebacker at that point of the draft, especially after Joe Schobert of Wisconsin and Joshua Perry of Ohio State had been picked earlier in the 4th round.

The 6’2″, 237-pound Martinez had been a two-year starter for the Cardinal. In those two years, Martinez had 243 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, 12 passes defended and had five picks.

In 2014, Martinez was named honorable mention in the Pac-12 at linebacker, while in 2015 was named first-team All-Pac-12.

Landry said this about Martinez in part of his scouting report on the former Stanford star:

Quick reacting and instinctive, he finds the ball. Physical at the point of attack. Good hand use, able to stack at the point. Good ability to shed blocks. Solid tackler. Reads pass well, gets depth with his drops. Keeps good position, has good receiver awareness.

Martinez ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard dash as the NFL Scouting Combine, but he improved that mark to 4.67 at his pro day.

With the second compensatory pick the Packers had in Round 4, the 137th pick of the draft, Green Bay selected defensive end Dean Lowry of Northwestern. Kramer also announced that pick for the Packers.

The 6’6″, 296-pound Lowry had a very solid career for the Wildcats as a three-year starter. In his career at Northwestern, Lowry had 134 tackles, 31.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, 21 passes deflected, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Dean Lowry

Dean Lowry of Northwestern

Lowry has the prototypical size desired to play defensive end in the 3-4 defensive scheme that the Packers utilize. Lowry was also named second-team All-Big Ten in 2015.

At the combine, Lowry ran a 4.87 40-yard dash, plus had 30 reps in the bench press drill.

This is part of the scouting report Landry did on Lowry:

Very good height with the frame to get to 295+. High motor. Quick to key and diagnose. Has strength and power at the point. Good hand use, can shed. Takes good pursuit angles. Flashes as a pass rusher. Top competitor. Might not have the best natural tools, but he gives you everything he has. He is instinctive and technique-sound. Is best suited to play defensive end in a three-man front.

In the 5th round, the Packers selected wide receiver/kick returner Trevor Davis of California with the 163rd pick of the draft. Robinson announced the selection.

The 6’1″, 189-pound Davis really opened some eyes due to his great performance at the combine.

Trevor Davis

Trevor Davis of Cal

At the combine, Davis ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash (third-best among receivers), plus leaped an outstanding 38.5 inches in the vertical jump. Davis also did an outstanding job in all of the drills, especially catching and tracking the football.

When the Packers worked out Davis themselves, he was timed in the mid-4.3 range in the 40.

Davis originally played at Hawaii in 2011 and 2012 and had 45 catches for 601 yards. He then transferred to Cal and redshirted in the 2013 season.

In 23 games including 11 starts with the Bears in 2014 and 2015, Davis had 1,071 yards receiving and seven touchdowns on 64 catches. He also had 1,110 return yards on 45 kick returns. He also returned punts as well, as he had 115 yards on 14 returns.

The Packers are always looking for more big play options, especially if the player can help quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense.

“Any time you can get a weapon in the fifth round, you have to try and do that,” said Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf. “He was still sitting there on the board and we were fortunate enough to pick him.”

Wolf also talked about how the Packers may utilize Davis offensively.

“He ran a lot of bubble screens there for Cal and took some pretty big hits in there. And pretty good after the catch as well,” said Wolf. “A lot of the guys we’ve had in the past have been returners in college and those guys are always better at the YAC, and that’s something that we look for.”

In the sixth round, with the 200th selection in the draft, the Packers picked offensive tackle Kyle Murphy of Stanford. I had the Packers selecting Murphy in my final mock draft, but I had the team taking him earlier in the draft.

Kyle Murphy

Kyle Murphy of Stanford

The 6’6″, 305-pound Murphy started at both left and right tackle for the Cardinal. He was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2015 at left tackle and second team All-Pac-12 in 2014 at right tackle.

Landry had Murphy ranked at No. 97 on his horizontal draft board, but the former Stanford star lasted until to pick No. 200. That’s what I call excellent value. This is what Landry said about Murphy in his scouting report:

A former five-star recruit, Murphy was named to the All- Pac-12 first team in 2015. He was a third-team All American. He is a solid football player who does everything very well. He had 34 career starts at Stanford, including all 27 his junior and senior seasons. He can get off the ball quickly, has explosiveness on contact, gets movement with run blocks and gets and keeps good position in pass protection. He plays with a natural bend and can anchor. Murphy is athletic enough to pull and play in space. He just needs to get a little bigger and stronger.

Bottom line, it sure appears that Ted Thompson and company did another fine job on Day 3 of the 2016 NFL draft in adding some talent to the team that Mike McCarthy and his staff will coach in 2016 and beyond.