The Green Bay Packers OLB group was one of the main problems with the defense last season. The Packers have had a revolving door of outside linebackers line up across Clay Matthews over the last three seasons and have had little to no success. It really came back to bite the Packers last year as even Matthews had a down year mostly because teams would not let him beat them. The Packers finished tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks and that is a number that needs to improve for the Packers to improve on defense in 2012.
The competition at OLB will be intense this year. 1st rd pick Nick Perry is the favorite to win the starting job opposite of Clay Matthews. Perry should help the pass rush immediately, as his athleticism was evident at the combine and at USC. However, he has never played OLB in a 3-4 before and his learning curve is big. Perry also may need to loose some of weight from what he was at the combine. Reporters at the Packers OTA practices said Perry did not look smooth playing inc coverage. The big standout at OTA's was undrafted free agent Dezman Moses. It will be very intriguing to see what he looks like when the pads come on. However, with how players and reporters are talking about Moses it looks like he has a good chance to make the roster. The Packers have shown in the past that they're not afraid to give undrafted free agents a chance. Frank Zombo and Erik Walden are two examples of that.
Speaking of Zombo and Walden they will be in a battle to keep their roster spots. Walden started all the regular season games last season until the Packers had an open competition for the OLB spot in week 17. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement for Walden. Jamari Lattimire and Brad Jones are being taught ILB so the Packers may be able to save a roster spot since one of the can play inside or outside. Last year's training camp sensation Vic So'oto will also be in competition for a roster spot.
Perry's development may be the whole key to the Packers season. Yes, the defensive line needs to improve as well, but if Perry can be a suitable running mate for Matthews it will go a long way to improving the defense. That is not to say Matthews is not to blame for some of what went on last season. Matthews was solid but not the spectacular player he was the year before. Him getting double teamed was part of the problem but there were many times when Matthews had one on one opportunities against inferior tackles and he didn't take advantage. Also, according to Pro Football Focus, Matthews has the 5th most missed tackles among all OLB in the NFL. That surprised me although there are other great players on that list including Lamar Woodley, Tamba Hali, Justin Tuck, Trent Cole, and Brian Orakpo. However, if Perry can be a pass rushing force on the other side I have no doubts that Matthews can return to the 2011 version of Clay Matthews. This Packers OLB has a lot of questions, but a lot of potential that should lead to an interesting training camp.