Detroit Lions, NFC North positional preview: Linebacker

Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Green Bay Packers

Key returning players: Blake Martinez, Oren Burks, James Crawford

New additions: Ty Summers

Key losses: Clay Matthews, Jake Ryan

If you think that it will be strange to see the Packers defense take the field in 2019 without seeing veteran linebacker Clay Matthews, you’re likely not alone. For the last ten seasons, Matthews’ iconic flowing blonde mane was as much of a fixture of the Packers’ identity as was his major impact on the team’s defense. Both sides were ready to move on though, and Matthews signed with his hometown Los Angeles Rams in March.

Matthews did spend the majority of his time in Green Bay occupying an edge role, however he was the unquestioned leader of the second level of the Packers’ defense for the majority of his time in Wisconsin. In his absence, the leadership void could be difficult to fill.

The most likely candidate to step into that role is Blake Martinez, who racked up an impressive 144 tackles and five sacks in 2018. The Packers will need more of the same from Martinez this year, as well as continued health from him; he has started all 32 games for Green Bay over the past two seasons.

Jake Ryan was a steady member of the Packers’ linebacker unit from 2015-2017, but an ACL injury cost him all of 2018. He was not retained this season, and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March.

As a rookie, Oren Burks was primarily a special teamer last year. He will likely be thrust into a larger role in his sophomore season. Considering the Packers’ myriad pass rushing options, they’d likely be satisfied with solid run defense and minimal lapses in coverage from him. Rookie Ty Summers is likely slated for a special teams job, unless one of the veterans ahead of him struggles or suffers an injury.