Depth at inside linebacker suddenly a strength for Packers defense

Once thought to be a weak spot on the Packers roster, the inside linebacker group is suddenly a strength.

If you asked many Packers fans at the beginning of the last couple seasons which position group might've been the weakest link at the time, the inside linebacker position was probably one of the first groups brought up.

Green Bay has struggled to find consistency at that position since Blake Martinez left in free agency after the 2019 season.

And even during Martinez's time, despite being the tackling machine that he was, many were left wanting more from that position in general.

Luckily, the Packers found a gem in free agency before the start of last season. De'Vondre Campbell was signed to a one-year contract in June of 2021 and proceeded to record his best season of football. The first team all-pro recorded the third-most tackles (103) in the league and was just recently voted the No. 49 player on the NFL's Top 100 of 2021 list.

But outside of Campbell, the Packers didn't have much proven depth at the position.

Krys Barnes was capable of making splash plays, but struggled to do it consistently as the No. 2 guy last season. Oren Burks and Ty Summers were primarily special teams guys and struggled when they actually saw the field on defense.

It seems the Packers saw the depth at that position group was a problem as well, addressing it by drafting dynamic playmaker Quay Walker from Georgia in April. Early reports have been positive about his play in training camp.

Isaiah McDuffie, a sixth-round draft pick in 2021 out of Boston College, has also made a big jump in his second season. Turn on the tape of the first two preseason games and you'll see McDuffie all over the field. At this point in time, he's almost a lock for the 53-man roster.

McDuffie seems to have played so well that he may be challenging Barnes for the No. 3 role, to no fault of Barnes, himself. Both have played very well in preseason games, which is a testament as to just how good that position group is.

Once thought to be a weak spot, the inside linebacker position has quickly turned into one of the best position groups on this team.

Which is a welcome sight to see, especially since the rest of this Packers defense has so much talent as well.

I can't wait to see what they do come September.

__________________________

Gunnar Davis is a lifelong Packers fan and a recent graduate of Simpson College, where he was a 3-year letterwinner on the offensive line and graduated with a degree in multimedia communications. You can follow him on Twitter at @Gunnar57Davis.

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6 points

Comments (37)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

August 24, 2022 at 12:11 pm

McDuffie has seemingly made a huge jump and looks like a great fit with this scheme. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Barnes too. Behind that, Wilborn hasn’t taken the leap and only gets in by default if he does. None of the others will. So we drafted Walker and had a leap from McDuffie. That’s good news certainly.

8 points
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T7Steve's picture

August 24, 2022 at 12:20 pm

This is great and looks good for run support when the 1s and rotation on the D line get dialed in, maybe we can keep teams from almost 5 yards a carry and make them have to try to pass with our top notch edge rushers and backfield.

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splitpea1's picture

August 24, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Barnes is a lock for the number 3 spot. Should one of the top two guys, especially Campbell, need to miss any period time, you want an experienced and capable backup ready to step in.

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Turophile's picture

August 24, 2022 at 03:22 pm

Unless McDuffie beats him out for the 3rd spot (which he might). He (Barnes) would still make the team though, as the 4th.

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splitpea1's picture

August 24, 2022 at 03:37 pm

As long as we have some experience behind Campbell if it's needed. A few fans elsewhere suggested we might able to trade Barnes with all of our newfound depth, but probably not a wise idea.

2 points
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mnbadger's picture

August 25, 2022 at 12:31 pm

not wise at all. We have depth, not great depth. Let's just enjoy what we have, develop both walker and mcduff then make longer term decisions next year. GPG!

1 points
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mnbadger's picture

August 25, 2022 at 12:31 pm

not wise at all. We have depth, not great depth. Let's just enjoy what we have, develop both walker and mcduff then make longer term decisions next year. GPG!

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canadapacker's picture

August 24, 2022 at 01:52 pm

I will say this - the proof will be in the pudding - Yes we have Campbell and we have other who are coming along. But until we see it on the field - the jury is still out. The first years that we had the Smith boys the outside was good but the middle was weak - and the pass rush was paramount and yet we got gouged on outside runs etc. Until Campbell last season we still didnt have the ability to stop the run - unless we sold out on other places. I hope that we have the total speed - from AJ Hawk to Blake - it is not ok just to make tackles after first downs are made - we need the impact plays on the inside and in the backfield - filling the holes and making the tackles. We also need wide pursuit - and now I believe we are getting there - and I hope that we have the guys. One final note - even if we have the guys - have our other guys learned how to tackle - The interior linebackers can force other teams wide - but if the outside guys cant make the tackle then these guys are kind of neutralized. Stokes Douglas, Amos Alexander Savage - those guys will make our new found interior guys look great

3 points
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Fubared's picture

August 24, 2022 at 09:02 pm

Aj hawk was the best tackler on the team when you consider he was the third person on the pile most of the time.. individual tackles, no thanks.

-2 points
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NoNonsense's picture

August 24, 2022 at 03:45 pm

Really impressed with McDuffie, he plays like his hair is on fire. Call me crazy but he looks more ready to make an impact than Quay Walker right now.

Wonder if they will consider using 3 ILBs from time to time. Use a 4 man front with Gary or Preston with their hand in the dirt at DE with Clark and Reed in the middle or some combination thereof.

McDuffie at the Mike, Campbell the SAM and Walker the Will. Two guys with speed and range outside and the tackling machine in the middle. All three can blitz or play coverage on pass plays. After all, our DC Barry loves his LBers.

9 points
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PatrickGB's picture

August 24, 2022 at 04:04 pm

Last I looked Macduffie did not have any hair. 😉 Campbell’s best position is Mike and it’s what he likes and why was resigned by the team. Yes, all three can blitz and are good at it but that might be a bit too radical even for the DC.

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NoNonsense's picture

August 24, 2022 at 06:32 pm

Great points Patrick. I forgot Devondre prefers the Mike position. Maybe the bald head allows McDuffie to play faster, less wind resistance. Not saying blitz all three guys, just saying they can so you can send any of them after the QB or into coverage.

Anyway, I think some 4-3 looks would just add to the versatility of the defense. Should the worst happen with Gary or Preston Smith missing some time we could use more DL guys to make up for their loss at least some of the time.

3 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

August 25, 2022 at 03:53 am

I don't think it's necessary at all. Buffalo had the #1 defense last year and played from a 4-2-5 in all but 89 of their snaps. The only time the Bills played dime in the regular season was against the Chiefs when one of their LBs got hurt.

The Packers have the talent, keep it simple and let them go out and play bully ball. Maybe if they start piling up some injuries they will have to switch some things up.

16 of the the last 20 SB teams finished in the top 5 in point differential. A bully ball defense and a good offense will do that for you. They're having fun flying around beating the hell out of the offense, just let them carry on.

1 points
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mnbadger's picture

August 25, 2022 at 12:35 pm

I love Bully Ball. Is that the new moniker for this defense. Maybe too early, but I'm going with it until I see otherwise. In Bully Ball I trust.
GPG!

1 points
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PatrickGB's picture

August 25, 2022 at 09:00 am

It’s an interesting proposal. The ability to have one of the middle linebackers blitz every now and then would be another wrinkle in the defense. Don’t forget that players playing out of position has its risks too. But imagine trying to game plan for that if you are an opponent?

0 points
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Johnblood27's picture

August 24, 2022 at 11:18 pm

mcduffie is bald.

1 points
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Oppy's picture

August 25, 2022 at 04:19 pm

Probably from all that running around with his hair on fire.

1 points
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Swisch's picture

August 25, 2022 at 07:56 pm

Good one, Oppy :-).

0 points
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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 25, 2022 at 09:27 am

Barry has done it with extra OLBs. I could see this happening on occasion, especially later in games with good down/distance.

Maybe 2022 will be the return of the psycho/nitro package :)

0 points
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HeyKoolaid's picture

August 24, 2022 at 04:09 pm

Important to note that the improved talent and play of the interior defensive line also plays in here. Those guys are helping those linebackers with clean looks.

5 points
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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 25, 2022 at 10:02 am

This can't be overstated. GB has really shored up the middle of the defense over the last couple years, and the increased talent and depth at both DL and ILB should make both of those position groups better.

0 points
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Tundraboy's picture

August 24, 2022 at 05:22 pm

Shusssh ! Please !

2 points
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porupack's picture

August 24, 2022 at 07:05 pm

Gunner, I'm so happy about your article which is happy that the ILB is poised (not proven) finally to be a strong and deep group I decided to just give every commenter a thumbs up. Enough good feel to pass it indiscriminately. Cheers to everyone. GB, dares to steal the bears historical identity. A toast to the preseason....cuz its fun to have some good football teasers.

5 points
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porupack's picture

August 24, 2022 at 07:06 pm

I even gave myself a shameless thumbs up..heheh.

4 points
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Coldworld's picture

August 24, 2022 at 08:51 pm

Well you’ve waited long enough to say that.

0 points
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Coldworld's picture

August 24, 2022 at 08:51 pm

Duplicate

-1 points
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NoNonsense's picture

August 24, 2022 at 07:12 pm

Lol

1 points
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Roadrunner23's picture

August 24, 2022 at 07:49 pm

It’s been a minute since we’ve had a front 7 with this talent and depth.
Add to that a loaded secondary!
Excited!!!

0 points
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Grandfathered's picture

August 24, 2022 at 07:51 pm

Wilborn, Summers, and Kobe Jones will be waived and I hope at least one (Jones?) is signed to the PS. Wilborn has trouble shedding a block, and Summers can't square up and tackle on kickoffs.

0 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

August 24, 2022 at 08:09 pm

Finally...ILBs to be feared, with speed, size, strength. Are the previous years of the soft middle of the Packer D now a "core" strength? TFLs and covered receivers...even INTs an expectation?

I am expecting strategic pass rushing from the ILBs too...drive OCs nuts. Walker blitzed a lot in GA...Campbell can do it too.

Campbell, Walker, McDuffie and Barnes looks to be a really good group. The ILBs are going to create tremendous synergies with the big boys up front. Then the hunters in the backfield. I really like giving Douglas a look at S. Lots of options in the backfield.

0 points
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jeremyjjbrown's picture

August 24, 2022 at 08:49 pm

"I guess they think that position is more important than we do"

Elliot Wolf

One quote that has aged too badly to forget.

0 points
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murf7777's picture

August 24, 2022 at 09:07 pm

I just watched film study on Quay’s two pre-season games and it showed some very athletic and strong plays by him. I believe it was Jemlive….Anyways, he has some power and uses his hands effectively against OL trying to block him. He didn’t necessarily make the play but he redirected it where the RB didn’t want to go and others made the tackle. He was assignment sure, which was a knock on him in college. His athleticism is off the charts and seems to be taking coaching well. He should have a bright future and impact many games this year. I think Barnes is a third backer with McDuffie close behind. Good backups. We are all set at ILB>

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

August 25, 2022 at 03:39 am

I'm not try to be a Debbie Downer here, I like Walker a lot, but I wouldn't be surprised if Walker struggles a bit. Most rookie ILBs have been lately, even the 1st rounders. He's going to get a lot of stuff thrown at him he hasn't seen before by the veteran QBs.

One thing I've liked from him when I watched some clips of his preseason snaps is he takes on O linemen like a grown man. Just about every one he took on got a jolt from him. If he keeps that up and plays fast they can live with the mistakes. I think they'll make things easier on him by keeping his coverage responsibilities in front of him as much as they can and giving him some easy green dog blitzes. Hopefully Campbell has another stellar season in coverage.

0 points
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Coldworld's picture

August 25, 2022 at 07:05 am

This is an important point generally. All rookies are likely to have growth pains once the season starts. There will be a lot of things they haven’t seen from opponents and what we are doing will involve a lot of things that they haven’t done much either.

0 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

August 25, 2022 at 09:47 am

Strength is a strong word. The Packers have made a positive turn at ILB.

0 points
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Leatherhead's picture

August 25, 2022 at 10:50 am

If I were a defensive coordinator, I'd be really confident in our entire defense, including the inside linebackers. I think that by adding guys like Slaton and Reed and Wyatt we've made the interior a much tougher place to do business, and it doesn't look like running at Gary's side is going to be easy pickings, either. We have the depth on the line, and at linebacker, to rotate guys and keep guys fresh and healthy enough to play.

It's a passing league, and pass defense starts with guys who can cover long enough for the pass rush to work, and Gutekunst has added Alexander, Savage, Amos, Douglas, Stokes.....these guys can cover.

I'm not a guy who is into hype, but this should be one of the better Packer defenses we've had since the Lombardi Era. When you add in an offense that controls the ball and eats the clock while the defense rests on the sideline......I'm actually wondering if we can give up fewer than 300 points this year.

Last season, we gave up 371 points, which was about average for the league. We gave up some garbage time points If we had given up one less TD during the season, we'd have been ranked in the top 10. Two AFC teams, the Bills and New England, were right around 300 points. The best NFC team was New Orleans with 335 points (no doubt helped by us only getting 3 on them in the opener.)

A 10% improvement would make us the stingiest defense in the NFC this year. A 20% improvement would put us under 300, and I think this group, if it stays healthy, can certainly do that.

0 points
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jont's picture

August 25, 2022 at 11:30 am

I'm still impressed with Campbell. From a free agent not drwaing a lot of interest to one of the league's best is impressive. Let's hope he continues well.

And credit to Barry. He had his doubters when he arrived, but he's getting it done.

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