Younger Green Bay Packers inside linebackers make noise during preseason : Packers Insider

Younger Green Bay Packers inside linebackers make noise during preseason

August 26, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Todd McMahon, Press-Gazette

~The Green Bay Packers made some noise in the days before training camp started when they cut veteran linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar.

Those moves, which cleared about $8 million in salary-cap space for the team, not only solidified a change in on-field complexion with the inside linebackers that began last season but also brought a different tenor to the position room this preseason.

Linebackers Robert Francois, left, and D.J. Smith during Green Bay Packers training camp practice on Ray Nitschke Field on Aug. 24, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette

“It’s really like a library right now,” starter Desmond Bishop said Wednesday, after the Packers held their final practice of the week before tonight’s exhibition game at Indianapolis.

The release of Barnett, in particular, meant the end of a prolific but injury-marred run of eight years in Green Bay for the team’s 2003 first-round draft pick, who also had a reputation for being one of its more vocal players. If he wasn’t turning up the music in the locker room, Barnett would chatter away about any number of topics in the more confined meeting rooms.

“It’s different not having Nick in the (position) room,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said this week. “Nick was a piece of work. So, it’s a quiet room this year. That’s a relief.”

The hush that has pervaded Moss’ daily meetings with his group has created a different set of challenges for the longtime assistant coach. Beyond Bishop and fellow starter A.J. Hawk, who at 27 are the oldest players at the position, Moss has been doing a lot more teaching and molding with several young players who are battling to fill the backup spots.

“Their heads are down, grinding, they’re writing everything I talk about,” Moss said of the classroom work during camp. “They want to impress. It means a lot to them. They know there’s a great opportunity in front of them, and they want to take advantage.”

The 5-foot-11 rookie D.J. Smith, one of the shortest players on the camp roster, has stood out with a combination of innate and playmaking abilities. The sixth-round pick was a tackle machine in college at Appalachian State, totaling 525 in his career to lead all active Division I players in 2010. As much as Smith doesn't have the prototypical size for an NFL linebacker, Capers and Moss are quick to argue size can be overrated. "Maybe the best inside linebacker I was ever with was about (D.J.'s) size — Sam Mills," Capers said. "I was with Sam for 12 years at three different places, and he made five Pro Bowls. And, he's not as tall as D.J. "You don't want to make comparisons and that, but I think he's got some instincts," Capers said of D.J. Smith.

More than three weeks of practices and two games into the preseason, Moss as well as defensive coordinator Dom Capers and coach Mike McCarthy feel considerably better about the depth at inside linebacker.

When the Packers started camp July 30 with Barnett and the versatile but similarly injury-prone Chillar in the rearview mirror, one of the few concerns for the reigning Super Bowl champions was what to make of the unknown understudies to Bishop and Hawk. After all, none of the five non-starters the team has had on the field for most of the preseason has played one meaningful snap in an NFL game.

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