GREEN BAY, Wis. – The greatest ability is availability. So, while Christian Kirksey might have been an upgrade over Blake Martinez at inside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, he missed the final two-and-a-half quarters of Sunday night’s win at New Orleans with a shoulder injury.
After missing 23 games the past two seasons due to injuries, Kirksey is expected to miss at least Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, according to ESPN. With a Week 5 bye, it’s possible Kirksey will miss only one game.
Kirksey, despite being a better athlete than Martinez and having familiarity in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, has not been an upgrade over Martinez at this early juncture of the season. He’s been exposed in coverage, not unlike his predecessor, and Green Bay’s run defense is the worst in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per carry.
Without Kirksey, Ty Summers was thrust into action. A seventh-round pick last year after recording 319 tackles at TCU, Summers showed his value on special teams as a rookie. However, while he played a team-high 311 snaps on the kicking units last year, he didn’t play a single snap on defense. That made his 44 snaps at linebacker against the Saints a momentous night.
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Summers played OK with a team-leading nine tackles on defense. He also wore the communication helmet. Having to organize the defense against an elite, veteran quarterback like Drew Brees would be a challenge for any linebacker, let alone one who hadn’t played defense in a regular-season game. In coverage, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 8-of-8 for 70 yards, though at least he was generally in the vicinity. He missed two tackles, one of them on Alvin Kamara’s long touchdown catch.
“There were a lot of good things that Ty did and, hopefully, he can build upon this performance that he put together yesterday,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday.
Summers is an intriguing option for a defense that can’t stop the run. He has a tremendous combination size (241 pounds), strength (27 reps on the bench at the 2019 Scouting Combine) and athleticism (4.51 in the 40 and 36-inch bench). Among the linebackers who went through testing at that Combine, Summers ranked fifth in the 40, third in the bench, eighth in the vertical and 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
“I think my biggest strengths are leadership and communication, aside from just the ability to play because I’m a versatile player,” Summers said after being drafted. “Having played quarterback my whole life, I understand football. I kind of understand what offenses are looking for in situational downs because I’ve studied film and all that. So, my knowledge of the game translates to the field and helps make my teammates around me better by communicating what the call is, what we’re expecting based off the formation. ‘Hey, watch stretch, watch play action.’ Just stuff like that. I would say that’s a big thing I bring to the field aside from just the athleticism part.”
His tackle count shouldn’t have been a big surprise. Last preseason, Summers led the entire NFL with 29 tackles and added one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.