GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.
To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.
This series of positional previews continues with the inside linebackers.
The Sure Thing: De’Vondre Campbell
Exactly 12 months ago, the Packers started OTAs with Krys Barnes and Ty Summers as the No. 1 inside linebackers. De’Vondre Campbell wouldn’t join the team for a few more weeks.
Campbell, of course, became one of the great June additions in NFL history. Inked to a one-year, $2 million contract on June 8, Campbell was the only linebacker in the league with 100-plus tackles and at least two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. According to Sports Info Solutions, 30 linebackers had 100-plus tackles. Of that group, Campbell ranked second with 4.5 yards allowed per target in the passing game and first with a missed tackle rate of 3.3 percent.
In the process, he became the team’s first All-Pro off-the-ball linebacker since Ray Nitschke and earned a big contract in free agency.
“I’m not going to say I was surprised but I was, if that makes sense, simply for the fact that I just didn’t feel like I was being talked about as much as some of the other backers across the league,” Campbell said of his All-Pro honors. “I understand how it goes. People talk about who they want to talk about and the facts are the facts. I felt like there wasn’t too many linebackers that outplayed me this year and I definitely felt like I was deserving.
“But, I had my mind set on I can’t get offended or I can’t take it personal if it doesn’t happen. I’ve got to keep working, keep on getting better and maybe next year. But it worked out and it was just a moment that I’ll never forget because it was a goal that I set for myself and I didn’t tell too many people about it. It was definitely a warm feeling for me know that I accomplished something I set out to do.”
The Big Mystery: When Will Quay Walker Join Starters?
There was nothing wrong with the pairing of Campbell and Krys Barnes. Barnes actually beat Campbell’s production on a per-snap basis in most areas. Still, general manager Brian Gutekunst used the first of his first-round picks on Georgia’s Quay Walker.
“It’s a production-based league,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said a couple weeks ago. “Guys have to be in position to make plays. You look at what that did for our defense last year with Dre, and that’s what Quay [provided]. If you watch any Georgia football game last year, it’s hard not to see ‘7’ flying around making plays. He has that ability, he has that skill-set and I think he has the mindset. If you can surround yourself with a bunch of guys who love football, good things are going to happen, and Quay loves ball.”
“There’s some things that you can do that maybe we’ve farmed out in other spots that you don’t necessarily have to farm out, which helps you disguise what you’re trying to do,” position coach Kirk Olivadotti said.
While Walker was active at Georgia, he wasn’t a playmaker with zero career forced fumbles and interceptions and only three passes defensed. Walker’s game must become the sum of its parts for the defense to reach its potential.
Worth Watching: Bisaccia Affect
In the race for roster spots, Campbell, Walker and Barnes would seems to have three spots sewn up on the 53. Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie, Ray Wilborn and undrafted free agents Ellis Brooks and Caliph Brice will battle for the last spot or two. Summers, a seventh-round pick in 2019, and McDuffie, a sixth-round pick in 2021, were staples on special teams last season. You can bet new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia will have a say on which players stay and which players go.
“We’re looking for actions to be the evidence of demand,” Bisaccia said. “We keep preaching that on a daily basis. We’re looking for attitude, we’re looking for effort, we’re looking for finish. They’re trying to see what we’re looking for and see if they can give that to us.”