GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews said he doesn’t regret playing the past season and a half at inside linebacker, but the reality is it lasted a year longer than he probably expected.
But when Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn’t address that position high in the 2015 draft, Matthews was resigned to playing there for another season. A year later, Thompson again waited until the third day of the draft to pick an inside linebacker, but now it appears he has given defensive coordinator Dom Capers enough to move Matthews back outside.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t still questions about what Capers will do at inside linebacker.
Between now and the Packers' first training camp practice Tuesday, we will break down each position group.
Next up, linebackers:
Returning players: Clay Matthews (OLB), Julius Peppers (OLB), Nick Perry (OLB), Jayrone Elliott (OLB), Datone Jones (OLB/DE), Jake Ryan (ILB), Sam Barrington (ILB), Joe Thomas (ILB), Carl Bradford (ILB, practice squad).
New this season: Lerentee McCray (OLB, free agent), Kyler Fackrell (OLB, third-round pick), Blake Martinez (ILB, fourth-round pick), Beniquez Brown (ILB, undrafted free agent), Manoa Pikula (ILB, undrafted free agent), Reggie Gilbert (OLB, undrafted free agent).
Position coach: Winston Moss (10th season).
Biggest issue: If there’s one area of the defense that Thompson has neglected high in recent drafts, it’s inside linebacker. The leading contenders to start -- Ryan, Martinez, and Barrington -- were picked in the fourth, fourth, and seventh rounds, respectively. The others -- Bradford and Thomas -- were picked in the fourth round and undrafted, respectively. Only Barrington opened last season as a starter, and he lasted just one week before a foot injury ended his season. Ryan eventually took over after Palmer played himself out of the job, while Thomas played extensively as the lone inside backer in the dime defense, when Matthews moved back outside in obvious passing situations.
Player to watch: Martinez was the only rookie who worked with the starters from Day 1 this offseason. While Barrington did not practice while still recovering from surgery, Martinez teamed with Ryan as the two inside linebackers in the base and nickel packages and the Packers like Martinez so much that they think he also might be able to play as the lone inside backer in the dime package. The former Stanford standout appears to have the athleticism to excel in coverage. To this point, the Packers have invested so many offseason reps in the rookie that it would be a major surprise if he didn’t play a significant role.
Medical report: Barrington is expected to be cleared for the start of training camp. McCray, who received only a $50,000 signing bonus, also did not practice in the offseason. He refused to disclose his injury.
Help wanted: Capers always says you can never have enough pass-rushers. It’s why the Packers moved Jones from defensive end to outside linebacker. But there’s another candidate to boost the pass rush: Fackrell had just 13 sacks in three-plus college seasons, but the Packers believe he has the pass-rush skills to get to the quarterback in the NFL.
Quotable: “I think they anticipated getting me back on the outside, which I said time and time again, not only do I feel most comfortable at, but they do as well,” Matthews said this offseason. “So, I think that was the plan all along. I’m not sure how that affected offseason transactions, but I was well aware of where I was going to line up once I came back [this season].”
Part 3: Receivers -- Packers might have to consider keeping seven
Part 5: Offensive line -- Free agency could break up line after this season
Part 6: Defensive line -- B.J. Raji's hiatus forced Packers to change plans