The biggest criticism of the Green Bay Packers’ offseason was the team’s failure to address the inside linebacker position. Many have said it’s akin to the way the Packers ignored the safety position a year ago. Yet, Green Bay doesn’t see it that way and with Brad Jones returning as one of the incumbents at inside linebacker, the Packers believe they have more than enough to win with.
Jones, a seventh round draft pick out of Colorado in 2009, has been moved around a number of times throughout his career with the Packers but back in 2012, following the injury to Desmond Bishop, Jones stepped in alongside A.J. Hawk in the middle of the Green Bay defense and started 10 games at inside linebacker.
During that stretch in 2012, Jones established himself as a starting caliber player in the eyes of the Packers after registering 77 tackles, two sacks, four passes defensed and one forced fumble. Then Green Bay rewarded him a three-year contract worth $11.5 million to continue starting alongside Hawk.
However, Jones 2013 campaign was a bit of a struggle. The 6-3, 230-pound linebacker battled injuries throughout the season and never really seemed to be healthy. In all, Jones missed four games but still managed to rack up 84 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The biggest issue for Jones was that he seemingly made fewer big plays than he did during the 2012 season, while at the same time giving up a number of big pass players, making fans and pundits question his skills in coverage. The Packers also had issues stopping the run, which can also be attributed to poor play from inside linebackers.
While many have dismissed Jones as a viable starting option going forward, the Packers have not. The team remembers how well he played in 2012 and believes that if he can get healthy, he can regain that form during the 2014 season.
Here is what linebackers coach Winston Moss had to say about Jones to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
“He was highly productive,” Moss said of Jones. “He was able to go in, take the tight end away as well from a guy who was primarily a rusher. To go in and effectively play that sub position and be productive playing the run on first and second down, you have to give him some credit. We felt good enough about him to be a three-down player. He actually has gone in and taken that dime linebacker position and he was doing that well.
“Again, it comes back to if he can stay healthy or not. When he was healthy, he was highly productive.”
Of all the inside linebackers currently on the roster, Jones undoubtedly has the best coverage skills of the group, which is why he will continue to see a lot of snaps on defense. However, with his lack of bulk, he can struggle at times against the run, which could be why Green Bay is preparing Jamari Lattimore to play a bigger role in 2014.
It’s entirely possible that we could see a split between Lattimore and Jones, where Jones plays more of the sub packages and Lattimore plays more in the base defense.
This much is true, the Packers belief in Jones has not wavered and if he can get back to playing the way he did in 2012, Green Bay will have a solid trio of inside linebackers that will make fans and pundits forget why it was a such a concern this offseason.