As Defense Struggles, Burks Remains Glued to Bench

Bill Huber

In 2018, Oren Burks was viewed as the type of new-age linebacker that could make a major impact on the Green Bay Packers’ defense.

“I think because of his athleticism, there’s more of a need for guys like him,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after drafting Burks in the third round. “At the same time, this is no small man now. He’s over 6-3, he’s 233 pounds, he was the No. 1 tester of the inside linebackers on our board. So, he is not small by any means for today’s inside linebackers. We think he’s very versatile the fact he can play both inside spots. We think his best football is ahead of him. The athletic gifts he has and his two years of experience as a linebacker, we think it’s all headed in the right direction.”

Friday video: "We're all frustrated together"

At Vanderbilt, Burks started his career as a safety before moving to inside linebacker. With that multiple skill-set, Gutekunst gave up fourth- and fifth-round picks to move into the third round.

At this point, it appears to be a bungled trade.

Derailed in part by injuries in each of his training camps – including a partially torn pectoral this summer – Burks has barely seen the field. As Green Bay’s defense has trended the wrong direction this season, Burks’ playing time has trended the wrong direction, too. After playing a season-high 14 snaps on defense against Oakland in Week 7, Burks has played a total of 13 defensive snaps the past four games. That includes just one snap last week against San Francisco.

“Sure,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said when asked on Friday if Burks could help his pass defense. “There’s certain packages and they’re up and active for this week. Sometimes it depends on what we’re getting from the opponent. Our groupings are typically based on what they put out there. We might have a group that we’re anticipating playing a lot and they don’t come out in the grouping we were working against, in particular, and that section of our defense might not get played that week. Since coming back (from the injury), I think he’s improved each week and during this stretch run he’s going to be a big part of what we do.”

Burks has played 43 snaps this season, that 6.03 percent playing time actually less than last year’s 11.47 percent. In the base defense, he’s behind B.J. Goodson. In the dime defense, he’s behind safety Ibraheim Campbell.

Opponents have tormented the middle of Green Bay’s pass defense. Not all of the blame falls on veteran inside linebacker Blake Martinez but he’s been part of the problem. Pettine, however, is not considering replacing Martinez – his every-down inside linebacker all season – for Burks. Martinez’s role as the defensive play-caller is too valuable, he said.

“No, I don’t see that as an option from that standpoint,” Pettine said. “It’s difficult at times, too, when you have a guy who is the communicator, it’s rare you can take guy with the green dot on and off the field. OB is the weak side linebacker in our dime stuff so that’s the position he’s learned and mastered. He’s the backup in the (middle) spot but we feel good about where we are.”

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