A healthy Bishop is critical to Packers defense
By Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY — The most surprising move of free agency for the Packers? That’d be the cap-conscious Ted Thompson shelling out $11.25 million over three years to Brad Jones.
For being the third man up at inside linebacker, Jones eclipsed expectations. He made the switch from outside linebacker to the inside and played 794 of a possible 801 snaps over the final 12 games. Jones became what the Packers preach — a back-up who maximized an opportunity. For a taller inside linebacker, the 6-foot-3 Jones wasn’t shoved around, either.
The thinking, for Green Bay, is that Jones could possibly stick as a three-down linebacker. A.J. Hawk? He was retained as well at a restructured deal, set to make $3.6 million this year.
Jones is back. Hawk is back. Not to mention, the Packers infused more youth into the position, too. That’s why Desmond Bishop, who signed a four-year deal Jan. 2011, called the situation “awkward” in our sit-down interview with the linebacker before OTA’s. When asked if he has to re-prove himself, if he must earn his starting spot back, Bishop said, “I don’t know really. It’s kind of awkward a little bit. Everybody’s paid. I don’t know.”
Whenever Bishop does return to the field, things should get interesting. If the linebacker is back by training camp, as he hopes, can Green Bay afford to banish him to the sideline again? He directly helps the Packers’ defense where they need it most — creating turnovers, adding toughness, blitzing. Bishop is driven by a seek-and-destroy mentality Green Bay has often missed.
For now, coach Mike McCarthy is simply happy that he has a deep group.
“I felt probably that 2010 linebacker group was the deepest group that I’ve ever been around as a head coach, and this year’s group definitely has a chance to champion that,” McCarthy said this week. “You never have enough good football players. Desmond’s situation is medical. Until he’s cleared there, you know how that goes. Sometimes it takes a little longer than everybody would like it to, but it’s clearly a very, very competitive group.”
And 2010 is a good example. Depth, with Bishop, helped the Packers overcome the loss of starter Nick Barnett. Even though Jones, Hawk and Bishop are all making starter’s money, injuries are unpredictable. That being said, Bishop also had a team-best pressures-per-snap rate of 5.5 and 6.8 on his rushes in 2010 and 2011, per Bob McGinn’s annual grades. Solid against the run, he also made the momentum-shifting plays lacking from the inside linebacker position last year with eight sacks, four forced fumbles and many pressures in 25 games.
Rewind to a Sunday night win at an electric Georgia Dome. With Green Bay ahead by a touchdown midway through the fourth, Bishop’s delayed blitz and sack of Matt Ryan swung momentum. The week prior, his trailing forced fumble in a win over Denver was exactly what coaches are teaching players during OTAs.
The Packers were often good, rarely great at inside linebacker. Such plays were lacking last year. Getting through rugged San Francisco and Atlanta will take a little something extra. And for a unit preaching energy more than ever, Bishop would seem to be the remedy.
Of course, the hamstring is a question mark. If Bishop isn’t the same player he was in 2010 and 2011, it’s a different debate. It’d be easier for Green Bay to leave Hawk and Jones as the starters. And if Bishop is “110%,” it’s hard to see awkwardness lingering into the season.
We’ll likely be checking in on all of this again by August.
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