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Five Days Until Training Camp: Inside Linebackers Preview

After promising rookie seasons, Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin are joined by De’Vondre Campbell at inside linebacker.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers training camp starts on July 27, with the first practice on July 28. Our Training Camp Countdown series continues with the eighth of our positional previews, the inside linebackers.

Packers Inside Linebacker Depth Chart Quick Reads

Krys Barnes: Bakersfield (Calif.) High School sent two players to the Packers last year. One was first-round quarterback Jordan Love. The other was undrafted linebacker Barnes. It would be Barnes who had far and away had the bigger impact as a rookie. Going from the practice squad to every-down defender, Barnes recorded 78 tackles in 13 games (10 starts). Barnes’ tackle rate was one for every 5.40 snaps. When former Packers linebacker Blake Martinez led the NFL in tackles in 2019, his rate was 6.61 snaps. Last year, Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham led the NFL in tackles. His tackle rate 5.80. Barnes added one sack, one forced fumble and five tackles for losses.

Kamal Martin: The Packers grabbed Martin in the fifth round, hoping for a value pick on a prospect who missed a big chunk of his final season at Minnesota due to a knee injury. He was on his way to being a Week 1 starter before a knee injury required surgery and kept him on the sideline for the first five games of the season. In 10 games that included six starts, he had 23 tackles, one sack and three tackles for losses. Generally, the coaches tried to keep him off the field on passing downs.

DeVondre Campbell: For the fourth consecutive year, the Packers are taking a shot on a veteran linebacker. In 2018, it was Antonio Morrison. In 2019, it was B.J. Goodson. In 2020, it was Christian Kirksey. After those swings and misses, maybe it will be different this time. A fourth-round pick by Atlanta in 2016, Campbell is a 70-game starter in five NFL seasons. After setting a career high with 129 tackles for the Falcons in 2019, he started all 16 games and recorded 99 tackles and a career-high seven tackles for losses last year with Arizona.

Oren Burks: The Packers traded into the third round to nab Burks in 2018. That didn’t work out at all. In Week 1, the Packers grabbed undrafted rookie Krys Barnes off the practice squad and put him in the starting lineup ahead of Burks against Minnesota. In three NFL seasons, Burks has played merely 275 defensive snaps. He hasn’t started a game since his rookie season. Burks has 56 career tackles; Barnes had 80 in 13 games. Burks played 96 defensive snaps last season and 275 in three seasons. He got a shot at outside linebacker last year but has moved back inside. He was second on the team with 10 tackles on special teams.

Ty Summers: A seventh-round pick in 2019, Summers showed a nose for the football in his limited opportunities last season. In 176 defensive snaps, he recorded 27 tackles. That’s a tackle rate of one for every 6.52 snaps. For comparison, Martinez averaged one tackle for every 6.50 snaps in his first year with the Giants. When push came to shove, however, Summers was more of an option of last resort, even on a depth chart featuring two rookies and past-his-prime veteran Christian Kirksey. A big reason why: According to PFF, he allowed 23-of-24 passing in 112 coverage snaps. On the bright side, he paced the team with 12 tackles on special teams.

Isaiah McDuffie: A sixth-round pick out of Boston College this year, McDuffie started six times as a sophomore in 2018 and finished second on the team in tackles. After missing most of the 2019 season with a torn ACL, he led Boston College and finished fifth in the nation with 107 tackles in 2020. He had 10-plus tackles in seven games, including a career-high 16 vs. Notre Dame. He had only four passes defensed in 40 career games (20 starts).

De’Jon Harris: An undrafted free agent in 2020, Harris spent his first training camp with the New England Patriots and most of his rookie season on Green Bay’s practice squad. He was elevated to the gameday roster twice, when he logged 25 snaps on special teams. In 48 games at Arkansas that included 36 starts, Harris totaled 371 tackles, 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He started every game over his final three seasons and earned second-team all-SEC in each season.

Ray Wilborn: A junior-college transfer, the former Ball State standout started at linebacker in 2018 and safety in 2019. During those two seasons, he accumulated 166 tackles, including three sacks and 12.5 for losses, plus four interceptions and eight passes defensed. Wilborn went undrafted in 2020, spent training camp with the Atlanta Falcons and served a few weeks at midseason on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad. The Packers signed him to a futures deal in January.

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Big Story Lines at Inside Linebacker

One: The Packers haven’t had a good coverage linebacker in years. If Campbell can fill that niche, he could change the defense. At 6-foot-3 5/8, his length presents a challenge to quarterbacks.

“It allows me to able to play and use my strengths to my advantage,” Campbell said during minicamp. “Most linemen are 6-4, 6-5 and so am I. When they’re trying to climb on me, I can use my length to keep them away from me and try to find the ball. Also, when I’m in coverage against tight ends, most of them are bigger guys. Usually, it’s a mismatch if a safety or a corner is on them. It’s not really a mismatch with me because I can match up with them.”

Two: Barnes played 421 defensive snaps during a trial-by-fire rookie season that was made more challenging with a broken thumb sustained in the playoff win over the Rams. He’s not big and he’s not fast but he showed a terrific feel for the game and quite a bit of veteran savvy.

“I couldn’t have scripted this at all,” Barnes said in January. “I did not think I would be playing this much this year. I didn’t think a lot of this was going to happen just because of the circumstances that we were in as far as COVID and not having a pro day and not having all those things. I didn’t know what was going to happen this year, but I kind of just give all the thanks to God. He’s put me in a great position this year. He’s able to bless me. The guys around me have embraced me and help me learn to take those steps that are needed to be where I am today.”

Three: Martin played 190 defensive snaps after starting the season on injured reserve. Can he cover and can he tackle? Of the 104 linebackers who played at least Martin’s 190 snaps, his five missed tackles gave him a 97th-ranked missed-tackle rate of 18.5 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. If he can finish more consistently, he could beat out Campbell for a starting job.

“It’s easier to coach a fast decision, meaning that if we get him lined up correctly and we get him looking at the right thing, we know Kamal’s going to make a fast decision,” inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “That’s a real positive, especially from my perspective, is, hey, let’s put him in the right position, making sure we’re getting his eyes where they’re supposed to be, making sure he’s comfortable where he’s aligning. When that’s the case, we know he’s going to make a fast decision.”

Four: Can McDuffie become a legit player? Scouts were split, but one compared him to Bills starter Matt Milano. Milano was good enough to earn a $44 million contract in March. “Would anyone have expected Matt Milano to start for three years in Buffalo and then get paid this offseason? I don’t think anyone would have seen that coming,” the scout said. “For Isaiah, he’s got to come in and learn the system, learn the lifestyle of the NFL, learn the speed of the game. I would think by Year 2, he’s going to hit the ground running and he’s not going to look back. When he’s more comfortable with everything, he could be a productive starter.”

Five: Can any of the under-the-radar players make a surprise run to a roster spot? Wilborn, for one, is an interesting prospect. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he ran his 40 in 4.56 seconds. The Packers tried to use safety Raven Greene at linebacker but injuries got in the way. Wilborn has the size and athleticism.

Inside Linebackers Coach Kirk Olivadotti Says

On having worked with new defensive coordinator Joe Barry in Washington and their philosophy at inside linebacker:

“I really enjoyed my time in Washington and he’s great to be around. It’s fun that way. As far as the inside linebackers go, depending on the week, and I know you guys hate when I say this, but depending on the week is what we have to do. So, there’ll be weeks where we’re hung out to dry a little bit in coverage, and we have to do that. There’ll be weeks that we have help all around us, and we have to do that. The one thing, the job description is the job description, as far as when a guy has the ball in his hands, let’s get that guy on the grass. It’s a multiple position where you’re going to be asked to do a lot of different things during the season and within each and every game, and I know that’s not the sexiest answer, but that really is what we have to do.”