And a new horse has entered the race at left outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.
Monday’s news that the team is indeed trying defensive end Cullen Jenkins at the position, for at least a stretch, comes as a major surprise (more on him in a bit). It also makes it official: There’s a good chance the position will be played by committee in 2010.
Much has been made this offseason about who the Packers will play opposite Clay “Funniest Person on Twitter” Matthews at outside linebacker in 2010. Brad Jones, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga have all had their names mentioned. Some have suggested Nick Barnett or little-used Cyril Obiozor could also get a shot there.
While Poppinga does nothing for me, and we still know very little about Obiozor, I really don’t see why the team has to find just one option there. After all, we keep hearing how much this team loves its linebacking group and how enthralled it is with the depth there. That’s clearly true, seeing as though the Packers drafted a grand total of zero OLBs this year. If that’s the case, the Packers should just plug players in at that spot depending upon the situation/strengths of each player.
Jones appears to be the front-runner to land the starting job. He’s got a good knowledge of the position – he played it in college – and did some very good things there at times last season. His impact also lessened as his time as a starter went on, though, and he’s only entering his second year in the league (not everyone is Matthews, keep in mind).
When the team first transitioned to the 3-4, I was certain Chillar would be an OLB candidate. He’s a good blitzer and cover man and he played outside in the 4-3. He spent most of his time at inside linebacker last season, though. Even more surprising was the fact that he struggled a bit in coverage, normally the strongest part of his game. He’ll likely spend most of his time inside again this year, but he’s got a skill set that would fit well in certain situations.
I’m not suggesting the team should move Barnett over from ILB permanently, but in certain spots, why not? He’s a very good cover man and an effective blitzer. On surefire passing downs, he’d make a lot of sense there. Jenkins lined up at ‘backer in Dom Capers’ “Psycho” package last season. He’d be a nice fit on run downs against a bruising, physical back (see: Peterson, Adrian) and his natural quickness would make him a possibility there on certain passing downs, as well.
I’m mentioning Poppinga and Obiozor last and, well, there’s a reason for that.
Frankly, I can’t figure out why Poppinga is even still on the team, except for the fact that his teammates seem to really like him. This is his sixth year in the league and there are still so many things he can’t do (like cover anyone). Occasionally you hear about the team liking his skills as a blitzer, yet he hardly made it onto the field last season. With there being no cap this year, I thought he was a good candidate to be cut. He’s still around, but don’t expect anything of him this season. Or ever.
Obiozor is an intriguing candidate. He’s got very good size (6-feet, 4-inches, 267 pounds) and it sounds like he’s above average in terms of speed. But, like Poppinga, he barely saw the field last season. His situation is different, of course, as Obiozor fits more into the “project” category. If he continues to develop and has a good camp, he could work his way into the mix. But for now, he’s on the outside (no pun intended).
Some have thrown out the idea of the Packers making a trade at some point for an experienced veteran at the position. That is not going to happen because, again, the team loves its depth there. And when you look at the total sum of the parts, you can sort of see why. The Packers may not have one go-to-guy there, but they seem to have enough parts to make a whole.
A committee could prove beneficial, as it would cover the team in the event of an injury and would allow everyone to stay fresher as the season goes on. Plus, again, the Packers could play to each player’s specific talents and avoid having to worry about the weaknesses of one go-to-guy being exposed. And with an inventive coordinator like Capers at the helm, I’m sure finding which spots to play which players wouldn’t be too tough a task.