One of the biggest reasons the Packers had the No. 1-ranked rush defense and the No. 2-ranked overall defense was the strong play of their linebackers.
Nick Barnett played very well after coming back from a major knee injury, and Clay Matthews made the Pro Bowl with 10 sacks, a Packers rookie record. After the injury to Aaron Kampman, Brad Jones stepped in and the defense only got better. At times, AJ Hawk struggled, but sharing time with Brandon Chillar saw good production out of that position.
This season everybody returns except for Kampman, who was basically gone last season. Matthews and Barnett should continue to produce, and Hawk and Chillar should play well, too.
The only concern is the ROLB spot.
Brad Jones will likely be the starter this season, with Brady Poppinga backing him up. Jones played well last year, especially in coverage, and showed great awareness for a rookie. If you project his stats as a starter over the course of a full 16-game season, he was on pace for 56 tackles and eight sacks. If he can have that kind of production or better this year, this linebacking corps should be one of the best in the league.
As a group, they're still very young, as Clay Matthews and Brad Jones are only 24, Hawk is 26, and Chillar is 27. Even veteran Nick Barnett, the oldest of the group, is only 29. They're definitely improving and are picking up the 3-4 defense, which should be better in year two.
Things look bright for this group and this should be a very exciting season for the Packers.
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