The Green Bay Packers’ rush defense was exposed in 2019. Is Christian Kirksey the difference-maker the team needs and who will be playing alongside him in the middle this season?
Most Green Bay Packers players, coaches, and fans would prefer to forget the clinic the 49ers and running back Raheem Mostert put them through back in January. Though many faces on the defensive side of the ball haven’t changed, newcomer Christian Kirksey has replaced Blake Martinez in the middle of the defense.
After leading the team in tackles for the third straight year, the Packers elected to let Martinez head to the New York Giants via free agency this offseason. Joining him in departing Green Bay was the team’s second inside linebacker, B.J. Goodson, leaving two openings in the middle of the Packers’ defense. While there were several names that were speculated to be the fit the Green Bay Packers’ front office was looking for, former Cleveland Brown Christian Kirksey turned out to be the one they had their eye on.
Kirksey put together two great campaigns in 2016 and 2017, compiling 286 tackles and 6 sacks during that span. However, his past two seasons have been marred by a plethora of injuries. When he’s healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with as he has shown so far in practice. Kirksey’s instincts seem to have him always around the ball and he has been there to shut down any safety valve dump-offs to the flats. That kind of speed is not something the Packers are accustomed to having in a middle linebacker.
While Kirksey’s position on the team isn’t up for debate, the second inside linebacker position remains a battle without a clear-cut favorite. Rookie Kamal Martin will compete with the oft-injured Oren Burks, 2019 seventh-round pick Ty Summers, and 2019 preseason standout Curtis Bolton.
Coming into camp, many people feel that the Green Bay Packers 2018 third-round pick Oren Burks has the best shot to win the starting job. While he’s shown the speed and strength to play in the NFL in his first two seasons, he’s failed to stay healthy and log significant snaps.
In 2019 the Packers brought two rookies into camp to compete with Burks. Seventh-round pick Ty Summers out of TCU and Curtis Bolton, who was undrafted out of Oklahoma. Bolton turned heads in training camp and really impressed the coaching staff with his play in the first two preseason games of 2019 but unfortunately suffered a torn ACL in the team’s third preseason game. While he’s currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, he’s still hoping to make an appearance, and make an impression, before the team breaks camp and cuts down to the final 53-man roster.
Ty Summers broke onto the scene in the 2019 preseason, racking up 25 tackles to go along with an interception and a touchdown but was unable to make an impact during the regular season. A year of being able to practice and learn Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system will definitely benefit Summers heading into this season and could give him the leg up on Bolton and incoming rookie Kamal Martin.
The Packers selected the University of Minnesota product, Kamal Martin, in the fifth round of this past April’s draft. Though he missed five games due to a leg injury, Martin was still able to put together a solid senior season and looks to compete for playing time with the first-team defense. While many have noted that Mike Pettine’s system typically takes some time to learn, Martin is a big, physical player, that has a knack for being around the ball. If size and strength is something the Green Packers are looking for to help slow down opposing running games, Martin may be the answer.
While there has been much talk throughout the offseason about who will get the final nod for the second inside linebacker position, there may never truly be an actual answer. The Green Bay Packers opted to have an extra defensive back on the field for 73% of their snaps in 2019, usually electing to swap them in for the second inside linebacker position. If the team deploys their packages in a similar fashion this season, it could be a mixture of the four seeing action, depending on the in-game situation. Summers and Burks appear to be the favorites at this point, but Martin and Bolton are both highly capable of stepping up and taking some snaps.