The Green Bay Packers are set to open training camp later this month. This is the next in a series of articles previewing the Packers position by position, analyzing the talent on the roster and discussing key questions that are facing the Packers as they begin preparation for the 2023 season. Today we examine the inside linebackers. For our look at the quarterbacks, click here, click here for the defensive line and here for running backs. We will examine another position each day until the start of training camp.
Packers Inside Linebackers: The Starters
The Packers signed De’Vondre Campbell as a bargain free agent prior to the 2021 season and Campbell had a career-best season. He earned All-Pro recognition for the first time in his NFL career. Campbell fit perfectly with the defense and made plays all over the field. He’s a smart player who reads plays well and is also a leader in the locker room.
In 2022, he got off to a slow start before improving his play later in the season. This was partially due to having a rookie starting opposite him. Campbell felt the need to cover for the inexperienced Quay Walker. Injuries also slowed him early on.
The Packers need Campbell to be more consistent this season and prove that 2021 was no fluke. If he stays healthy, don’t bet against Campbell having a bounce back year.
Quay Walker has elite speed for an inside linebacker and that was a big reason the Packers selected him in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. GM Brian Gutekunst felt Walker could help transform the way the defense plays with his physical tools.
In his first NFL season, Walker showed flashes of that ability but also made his share of mistakes. He struggled to read running plays and to take the proper angle of pursuit. He did improve in these areas by the end of the season. He also led the team in tackles.
The Packers hope that Walker is ready to take his game to the next level in year two of his career. They may use him in coverage, to shoot gaps against the run and to occasionally rush the passer.
Walker also needs to keep his temper in check as he was ejected from two games last season for making contact with non-players after the whistle. If the Georgia alum can grow in these two ways, he and Campbell can potentially give the Packers their best duo at ILB in recent memory.
Battling for Backup Spots and a Place on the Roster
Isaiah McDuffie enters his third NFL season as the team’s primary backup at ILB. The former sixth-round pick out of Boston College got his first NFL start last season in addition to being a primary contributor on special teams. He finished the season with 43 tackles and a fumble recovery while playing 17 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
McDuffie is a solid backup who graded out better as a run defender than in pass coverage.
Eric Wilson played in 13 games for the Packers last season but only saw 35 snaps on defense. His biggest contributions came on special teams and that will be the key to making the roster again for Wilson in 2023.
The former University of Cincinnati star has 27 career NFL starts under his belt and can give the Packers an experienced backup who can step into the lineup in a pinch.
Tariq Carpenter is making the switch from safety to inside linebacker. At 6’4” and 225, the Georgia Tech alum is a bit of a tweener. He has intriguing athletic ability and size but needs to find a place where he can fit into the defense.
Last season, Carpenter played just 16 snaps on defense while becoming a core special teams player by the end of the season.
Special teams will likely be his primary role again this season if he makes the team.
The Packers signed Jimmy Phillips as an undrafted free agent after the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6’1” and 232 pounds, he lacks ideal size for an ILB in the NFL but has good instincts.
The SMU product started 24 games over five seasons in college and led the Mustangs with 85 tackles. He also added 7.5 tackles for loss.
Phillips will have to make a strong showing in camp and the preseason to make the roster and he’ll need to stand out on special teams.
Three Key Questions
Packers Inside Linebackers Question Number 1: Will Walker Improve in Year 2?
If Walker makes that second-year jump the Packers will have a speedy player in the middle of the field who can run down ball carriers, drop back into coverage and even rush the passer. To get this done, Walker’s ability to take the proper angles and read defenses must improve.
If Walker makes a second-year jump, the entire defense can be improved. If he struggles, Joe Barry’s unit may struggle with him.
Question Number 2: Can De’Vondre Campbell Return to All-Pro Form?
Getting Campbell back closer to his 2021 form would also help the defense improve. Assuming he stays healthy, there are reasons Campbell could do it.
He should not have to cover for Walker being out of position as much now that Walker’s in his second season and more familiar with the defense. Campbell is only 30 years old and is still in his prime and his skill set is a great fit in the Green Bay defense.
If Campbell can be nearly as dominant as he was two years ago, the defense will take a big step forward both against the pass and the run.
Packers Inside Linebackers Question 3: Who Else Makes the Roster?
The backup situation is very much open. Special teams will likely be the deciding factor. How quickly Carpenter makes the transition may play a role as well.
There are one or two roster spots and one or two spots on the practice squad available at this position and it will be interesting to see who steps forward to fill them.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage