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Packers in store for change at inside linebacker?

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

What position do our Packers insiders consider to be the most intriguing with the offseason all of a sudden just around the corner?

The vote goes to inside linebacker, where a surplus of quality talent could make for some very tough decisions for the team’s braintrust.

Blame Brad Jones, who would get lots of votes as the team’s most pleasant surprise this season, for being primarily responsible for creating an interesting dilemma at a position that has persevered quite well despite season-ending injuries to MLBs Desmond Bishop, who was lost before the season started, and his replacement, D.J. Smith.

Considered undersized at outside linebacker, Jones was shifted to the inside this season — a move some close observers thought would be a bad fit for his leggy stature. But after Smith went down for the count in Week Six at Houston, the Packers coaches opted to start Smith over Rob Francois.

While he has missed some tackles on occasion and given up a fair amount of plays in pass protection, Jones has played the run exceptionally well and has applied good pressure on cross-blitzes starting alongside strong-inside ’backer A.J. Hawk in the base defense and nickel defense and as the only LB in the dime defense.

An unrestricted free agent in March, the consensus is that Jones has proven he has what it takes to be a legitimate starting ILB. Could Jones possibly figure as a re-signed starter with the Packers in 2013 alongside Bishop, replacing Hawk, whose cap hit next season is a hefty $7.1 million? With Francois, Jamari Lattimore and rookie Terrell Manning also in a deep and talented mix — provided Bishop and Smith come back fully healthy — something’s got to give.

If Hawk, who has been having a very solid year himself, returns next season, we hear it’s a very good bet his contract will be significantly reduced.

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