In our ongoing series, we now preview the linebackers in our best case/worst case scenarios:
- A.J. Hawk – Now in his third year, this may be the season Hawk puts it all together. And that’s not to insinuate that Hawk hasn’t played well his first two years. He’s been reliable as German engineering. It’s just that he hasn’t had that breakout streak of game changing plays that he was known for in college. Best case scenario, Hawk has a Pro Bowl year full of interceptions, forced fumbles and recoveries. In addition, they add the blitz to his repertoire, which results in at least five sacks. Worst case, Hawk stagnates and was the same old player he was his first two seasons, reliable but unremarkable.
- Nick Barnett – With any possible legal troubles behind him, Barnett could pick up where he left off last year, his finest season as a professional. It’s a shame he didn’t get a Pro Bowl he deserved. He made plays all over the field, plain and simple. Best case, he earns a Pro Bowl berth he deserves, not just some nod to make up for last year’s snub. Worst case, he becomes dogged by the things that have nagged him in the past like unnecessary roughness penalties, injuries like the one that forced him to wear a club-like cast that limited his effectiveness, or more legal troubles.
- Brandon Chillar – The Packers didn’t break the bank bringing in Chillar, but they didn’t bring him in for nothing. He may thrive in the scheme the Packers had in mind when they made him their only free agent signing this off-season. Best case, Chillar plays so well that he keeps Brady Poppinga off the field even in short distance situations that suit the larger and aggressive Poppinga.
- Brady Poppinga – The Packers singed Poppinga to a contract extension for a reason. His play improved heavily as the season went on, and his football player mentality is almost second to none. Pass coverage was a problem, but it did get better. His willingness to play on special teams despite starting is a plus. Best case scenario, Poppinga becomes more effective despite playing less as the Packers put him in down and distance situations that play to his strengths. Poppinga makes tackles from sideline to sideline on running situations, they utilize him as a pass rusher on both the blitz and from the three point stance, and he even has an interception to display his improved pass coverage skills. Worst case, his role becomes so diminished because Chillar shows his play is as good if not better than Poppinga’s.
- Desmond Bishop – For a sixth round draft choice, Bishop had a good rookie season. He was a key special teams player, and the Packers showed enough trust in him that they only kept five linebackers allowing him back up all three positions. Best case, Bishop fills the same role he did last year only he gets better at it. Worst case, Bishop is cut when Abdul Hodge’s improved play makes him expendable.
- Abdul Hodge – Hodge has come to a crossroads, make-it-or-break-it season in his young career. It’s a good thing he’s shown that he’s recovered from injury as he’s had a better than expected training camp thus far. Best case, Hodge shows the Packers he’s worth keeping when he becomes a top backup and special teams player. He doesn’t look as if he’s concerned about his knees and neither does the coaching staff. Worst case, he gets cut when a good early showing is overshadowed by a decline in his play later in camp.
- Tracy White – How long can a special teams demon demand a spot on the team despite not offering much on defense? It’s hard to tell. White’s remarks this off-season that it’s a goal of his to make the Pro Bowl on special teams play showed his determination. Remember that the Packers thought enough of him to make him a post-season captain last year. If he plays at that level, he’ll stick. Best case, he leads the team in special teams tackles, becomes at least a Pro Bowl alternate, and provides depth at linebacker. Worst case, his special teams prowess isn’t enough to keep both Hodge and Bishop off the team and is cut.
- Spencer Havner – Havner has shown dedication to the team and the Packers have rewarded it by keeping him around on the practice squad for a full season last year. He may be out of practice squad eligibility, so he faces an uphill battle. Best case, he makes the 53 man roster due to multiple injuries ahead of him. It’s a remote possibility, but it may be his only chance. Worst case, he’s gone on the first roster cutdown date.
- Danny Lansanah – The All-Big East performer also faces a tough task in making the team with so much depth ahead of him. Best case, he shows enough worth to keep on the practice squad. Worst case, he’s cut sooner instead of later.
Photo credit: fool's photstream on flickr.com