Draft should show how much Packers like Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson insists he likes the inside linebackers on his roster, yet at the same time the Green Bay Packers general manager is glad his team doesn't have to line up and play with them for almost five more months.

So which is it?

Either Thompson feels good about Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan as his opening-day inside backers or he’s going into next week’s draft intent on finding a new starter.

“We think it’s a pretty good group,” Thompson said this week during his annual pre-draft press conference. “They’ve been able to get some experience, and Sam’s experience got thwarted a little bit with the injury. But we think we’ve got a pretty good group.

“But we’re not playing anybody tomorrow. I hope not. There are places on our rosters where we’re relatively thin when looking at it from a 90-man roster standpoint, but we have a number of guys who were on the team before this spring and will be on the team going forward.”

At this point, Thompson would be making an educated guess if he said he felt confident that Barrington and Ryan were capable full-time players at inside linebacker. Barrington, a seventh-round draft pick in 2013, has only eight regular-season starts to his credit. That’s three more than Ryan. Barrington became a starter halfway through the 2014 season but lasted only one game in 2015 before a foot injury ended his season. Ryan, a fourth-round pick last year, didn’t become a starter until Week 13 last season.

“Jake did a really good job for us coming in,” Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said this week when the players returned for the start of the offseason program. “The kid just played with his hair on fire. When you’re a young guy, you don’t know your head from your tail. All we do is ask for you to play with your head on fire, and that’s what he did. Looking forward to see him make the progress from Year 1 to Year 2.

“And Sam Barrington, he’s one of my favorites. Really, you put him out there, it doesn’t matter. He’s great. To get Clay back on the edge is good because he’s carved out a heck of a career for himself on the edge. We’ve got guys that can get it done in the middle.”

It’s not surprising to hear Daniels talk up Barrington (his close friend) and Ryan because both play with the same breakneck approach.

“Sam and I, we became friends because we think the same,” Daniels said. “He has the same mentality as me. He’s coming to start a riot. That’s the way he plays football. We continue to feed into that type of identity, that personality in our defense. Sam, he’s a leader. He’s a guy [who] I don’t mind saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got it. Whatever you need done, I’ll get it done for you.’ I love him.

“It really stunk that he got hurt last year, but that was just the way things happened. Nothing you can do about that. There’s nobody more upset about him being hurt than himself. You see him come back, he looks great. OTAs should be interesting.”

The only other inside linebackers on the roster are Carl Bradford, a disappointing fourth-round pick who has spent two seasons on the practice squad, and Joe Thomas, a former undrafted free agent who surprisingly played 318 snaps last year as the lone inside linebacker in the ultra-important third-down dime package.

In some ways, the Packers still are trying to find upgrades for Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk, both of whom were released after the 2014 season. Coach Mike McCarthy had to play them a year too long because Thompson failed to address inside linebacker in the 2014 draft (although he found first-round success at another position of need that year with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix). Thompson almost certainly would have taken C.J. Mosley or possibly Ryan Shazier had the inside linebackers not gone before the Packers picked.

Now, the closer next week’s NFL draft gets, the more it’s starting to look like one of the top inside linebacker prospects, Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, might just be there when the Packers go on the clock at No. 27 overall.

If Thompson has the chance to take him and passes, then it will be easier to believe that he really does like his inside linebackers.