GREEN BAY, Wis. – During training camp last summer, rookie fifth-round pick Kamal Martin emerged as a potential starter at inside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.
Fast forward almost 12 months and a lot has changed. Krys Barnes, an undrafted free agent last year, has become the every-down linebacker. Plus, the team added veteran starter De’Vondre Campbell in June.
So, there was Martin taking a couple snaps at outside linebacker on Tuesday during the one-on-one pass-rushing drill. In his second snap against rookie offensive tackle Coy Cronk, Martin’s right knee buckled and he dropped to the turf. Fortunately for Martin, whose grasp on the starting job last summer slipped away following knee surgery, the injury was not major. Martin returned to practice and lined up at outside linebacker again during an 11-on-11 period.
The experiment is an acknowledgement of the current linebacker depth charts. At inside linebacker, Barnes and Campbell have been the starting pair. Moreover, two players who were afterthoughts on defense during the second half of last season, Oren Burks and Ty Summers, have moved ahead of Martin as the No. 2 tandem.
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Moreover, at outside linebacker, Za’Darius Smith hasn’t practiced yet due to a back injury and No. 4 outside linebacker and special-teams standout Randy Ramsey suffered a significant ankle injury on Monday. Those injuries have left little depth beyond Preston Smith and Rashan Gary.
“We’re a little bit short, losing Rambo at the outside backer position, so we’re going to try and Kamal in that role,” coach Matt LaFleur said before Wednesday’s practice, which is closed to reporters and fans. “He will be OK but he did suffer a minor setback with a slight injury right there during that one-on-one pass-rush drill. We’ll see how long it takes him to get back into the fold. That is something that we’re going to experience with him both just outside and inside.”
If Martin can provide depth at both position groups, it would allow general manager Brian Gutekunst to go heavy at another spot when he picks his 53-man roster. The Packers experimented with Burks as a combo linebacker last year before moving Burks back inside for this year. This year, it’s Martin’s turn. He showed some promise as a blitzer last season.
“We’re just trying to let these guys compete and find the best two to go out there at the inside spot,” LaFleur said. “Everybody has to earn it. No matter who you are, no matter what position, you’ve got to go out there and earn it. We’re going to try to play the people that give us the best opportunity to win. I love the way Kamal attacks everything he does. He’s a great kid that puts in a lot of work but, again, he’s got to earn it.”