The Lass Word: This Should Be Quay Walker's Year

New defense will be designed to feature his talent.

Quay is a talented player.  As we build this thing we’re gonna make sure he’s in a position to make a lot of plays.  So whatever we feel, as we piece this thing together, wherever that is, that’s where we’ll put him.   -- Jeff Hafley 

 

He played on a national championship team in college.  He’s a former first round draft pick.  He’s played and started for the past two seasons.  Yet many Packer fans still don’t quite know what to make of inside linebacker Quay Walker.  On the one hand, he has led the team in tackles both of his seasons.  In fact, nobody else is even close.  In the 2023 regular season Walker was credited with a total of 118 stops.  The next highest was Isaiah McDuffie with 88.  The former Georgia star finished with just three fewer tackles in ‘23 than he had in his rookie year, despite playing in three fewer games. 

Walker was voted to the Pro Football Writers all-rookie team in 2022.  On opening day of this past season he had a spectacular interception and runback for a pick six against the Bears.  Finished fourth on the team in tackles for loss with seven.  He has a rare combination of size and speed and is especially effective pursuing sideline to sideline. 

But Walker has his share of critics.  One of them is social media commentator Peter Bukowski who covers the Packers.  He recently posted the following on X (formerly Twitter):   

“Take PFF grades with whatever sized grain of salt you want, but among linebackers who played at least as many snaps as Quay Walker, no one graded out worse in 2023 than he did. And yet he still had a better grade in '23 than in 2022.” 

Despite being a tackling machine, Walker has not been very productive as a pass rusher, having just four sacks in two seasons.  He often struggles to take on blocks and dropped at least two sure interceptions in 2023.  Missed tackles is a subjective stat.  I have seen Walker listed as having anywhere from nine to twelve misses, depending on who’s doing the counting, in 2023.  The young veteran has also had issues controlling his temper.  As a rookie he was ejected against Buffalo for shoving a Bills coach on the sideline.  Then in Green Bay’s critical week eighteen contest against the Lions, Walker was kicked out again for shoving a Lions trainer who was coming on to the field to aid an injured player.  

So what exactly do the Packers have in Quay Walker?  Is he a future star who just needs time to learn the nuances of his position, and how he fits into the entire scheme?  Is he an overrated, eventual bust, a guy who was made to look better than he really is because he was surrounded by so much talent in college?  Or is he something in between?  Will he end up being like an AJ Hawk or a Nick Barnett, two players who started for a long time, made a lot of tackles, were generally solid, but never took the next step into stardom. 

The Packers will likely get the answers to those questions this year.  New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley may make it a priority to build the unit in a way that allows Walker more freedom, more chances to use his athleticism.  One of the reasons Quay’s pass rush stats are so meager is because he hasn’t been used a lot as a rusher.  Under Joe Barry, Walker did a lot of drops into coverage and edge patrol.  The shift to a 4-3 base likely profiles him as either a middle or weak side backer.  As such he would have more space in which to operate, and more options to play closer to the line and go after the QB.  Walker’s body and speed should lend itself to more success evading offensive linemen and tracking down quarterbacks, than it would trying to cover swift tight ends and running backs over the middle.   

A good example came in Green Bay’s week eighteen game against the Bears.  Walker flagged down the elusive Justin Fields in the backfield and stuffed him behind the line of scrimmage.  Walker said after the game his assignment on the play was to spy Fields.  That the coaches would assign him that role tells you how highly they think of his athleticism.  That play was a perfect snapshot of what the six-four, 241 pounder can be, if used to his strengths.  

Walker also did a better job of maintaining his self-control in his second year.  He didn’t have any personal foul issues or ejections, yet still played with the kind of fire and emotion that can be contagious on a defense.  Before his departure, former DC Joe Barry expressed his excitement over what Walker brings to the team’s defensive mentality:  “He plays a full-tilt, full-speed, physical brand of football all the time. And it is very emotional,” Barry gushed. 

By the time the curtain comes down on the 2024 season we should know what the Packers have in Quay Walker.  Just 24 years old next season, the 22nd overall pick in the draft is too young with too much potential to ignore.  He will be put in a position this year that will allow him to demonstrate whether he can become a true star and playmaker.  If he does not take the next step this coming season, his third in the league, it’s fair to wonder if he ever will.  

 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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8 points
 

Comments (40)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Cheezehead72's picture

February 26, 2024 at 06:10 am

I am not concerned about Quay. He is a good LB and will line up as the WLB. My concern is what are we going to do at SLB. I expect Gute to sign a tier 2 or 3 SLB and draft a guy that can cover TEs.

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NickPerry's picture

February 26, 2024 at 07:06 am

I'm excited about watching Walker in this defense. Actually I'm excited about watching several players in this defense. I for one thought Walker would make a big jump but it didn't happen. But does anyone ever make a jump in a Joe Barry defense?

I think we see a better version of Walker in this defense. How much better remains to be see.

8 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:00 am

I think that is the wider point. Get away from a scheme designed not to dominate but to minimize big plays and hopefully from an associated scheme-above-player approach. Doing so should create more opportunities for more players to make an impact not simply in reducing plays by opponents, but making them.

Walker seems like a prime candidate to benefit from that. There are others. We will give up big plays at times, but if Hafley is worth his hire, we should start to make more throughout the D (not merely rely in the front 5 or bust. It’s not like we didn’t give up serial significant plays when it matters fast on many occasions before.

On paper this looks good for Walker, Jaire, Stokes etc. Everyone behind the front in particular in fact. Now we need to see if it materializes. It may take some games to gel and we are dependent on getting help via better health and acquisitions to give Hafley pieces in the middle of the field next to and behind Walker.

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LambeauPlain's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:14 am

The lack growth or outright regression of Packers #1 draft picks playing Barry Ball is revealing: Alexander, Savage, Stokes, Walker, Wyatt.

Savage will likely try to resurrect his career elsewhere. However, I would like to see him play after Hafley and Ansley try to coach him up. Maybe they could make him the Packer 2024 Phoenix. May be worth a try if Savage were to accept an incentive laden, prove it deal for the sparse Safety room?

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:22 am

If Savage could tackle better or had shown an ability to deep cover that his athleticism promised, I’d agree. Unfortunately Savage is better reacting not reading. He was drafted in the strength of being a robber in college. In this scheme, he’s not robust enough physically or as a tackler to be the SS. He may not be to play slot. He’s not going to cover TEs and play the run effectively consistently.

He’s not reliable deep. It’s just never clicked. That might be in part due to Barry, but as it is I see him as no better fit in this scheme as he was in Barry’s. If he’s available cheap after the draft, then he’d be worth a shot to prove that wrong, but I think a team will see him as fitting their needs and that he would be wise to take that and the pay that likely goes with it.

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LambeauPlain's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:08 am

You could be right.

Hafley needs to analyze if Savage is able to be reclaimed and play as he did during his promising first two seasons in Pettine's D. More than a coincidence IMO his fall off occurred playing Barry Ball.

Is Savage a bust...JAG...a liability? I do think he could be good DB, reclaimed at the slot position if he becomes an "A" student in Hafley's tackling clinics. (I hope his OSU tackling emphasis used in 2019 is again a class on the Packer practice field).

But the analysis may quickly be moot if Savage gets a multi-year deal elsewhere.

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Cheezehead72's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:20 am

The best Savage can do is probably a 1 year prove it deal unless a team needs another Safety for a two deep Safety defense.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 10:07 am

Savage is gone. They wouldn't have let his void years toll if they had any desire to bring him back. The only way he's back is if 31 other teams don't want him.

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:22 pm

You had me at “moot”.

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T7Steve's picture

February 26, 2024 at 07:22 am

It will be exciting to watch this unit evolve. Before it was either excellent or poor even in the same game. Its only consistency was it would allow other teams to stick around an beat us. Now, maybe it will be something more consistent that will allow playmakers like Quay to have more moments to shine to their ability.

Is it easier for a team to switch to a 4-man front from a 3, verses switching to a 3 man front from a 4? I was thinking it would be easier due to more versatile edge players but am just guessing.

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:11 am

It depends on who you have and what exactly the 4:3 means. These days that is not as clear cut as it was 20 years ago. Moreover it’s not necessarily significant 70% of the time when we aren’t in base anyway.

Really though that’s half the question. These type of schemes change the approach with the DBs as much as the front 7. Looking at our roster, I think the likelihood is that it suits our CBs much more naturally (with slot potentially being a S and no likely starters in the roster there or at FS and SS, current fit there is moot).

It may well suit guys like Walker, LVN, Brooks among others very well too. Particularly up front, we need to see what is actually installed and then how it is utilized, but our roster seems to promise a relatively easier transition than was the case when Capers first arrived to bring in the 3:4. Clarks’ exact role, Preston Smiths are ones I will be looking at closely, not just Walkers’.

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:41 am

I thought Justis Mosqueda made two conflicting statements last week about the new scheme. He said it's susceptible to crossing routes but then said in base you want a thumper in the middle focused on the run between the tackles. To me you need a LB that can get a deep drop in a hurry at the snap if you want to clog the middle to defend crossers and meshes.

Walker is good in coverage and blitzing but needs a lot of work vs the run. Ideally maybe he's the WLB in base and then moves to the middle in the nickel. But his knowledge of offenses and what they are trying to accomplish would have to increase greatly. I'm doubtful they would attempt something like this in their 1st off-season.

I think the draft/FA will show us where they plan to line Walker up. If they draft a guy like Junior Colson, who is 6'-3" 247lbs, they probably plan to play Walker outside. If they go with a lighter guy most likely they want Walker in the middle.

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PeteK's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:52 am

I agree, he is very slow to read the running game and sets himself up to be blocked. He's a solid LB, like Martinez, but I would expect more from a 1st rounder.

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WD's picture

February 26, 2024 at 07:37 am

The elephant in the room is who will be the other starting LBs besides Quay? A defense is only as good as it's LBs. I see it as our most critical need at this point. I like the idea of drafting another edge rusher and another ILB early. Within the first three picks. I also like the idea of possibly using Van Ness as a roaming LB. This could be a nightmare for opposing offenses. Talking about being aggressive is that. Just talk. We need bold action.

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LambeauPlain's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:33 am

I am not very high on moving Van Ness to LB. I do acknowledge it worked years ago when McCarthy told Capers to move CMIII to ILB...as McCarthy got involved with the D...and it was Clay's last productive year in GB. The next season Clay was back exclusively at Edge and continued to decline there as Mike gave the D room back to Dom. But Clay was a grizzled vet at the time with extensive experience reading D's.

Van Ness needs to focus on being a DL and develop more pass rush technique and moves. It was tantalizing to see his production while mostly just relying on a bull rush. If he add to his moves, and Hafley feels he can move him along the DL, depending on the situation of the play, that will bring more synergies to the D than forcing him into a LB role.

The 2 or 3 LBs will be asked to cover receivers, both RBs and TEs and Van Ness would be a liability there. If VN was standing up playing LB, it would be a big tell for the other team he's likely going to blitz.

McDuffie will be the 2nd LB going into the offseason. I don't think the 3rd starter is on the team yet.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:44 am

You don't have to worry about LVN playing LB. That's just silly speculation.

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WD's picture

February 26, 2024 at 12:04 pm

Adrian Hutchinson of Detroit was moved all over the d- line. He had a fantastic year. Just sayin. Hopefully the new DC will not be afraid to come out of the box with various formations so that the defense is not predictable.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 12:16 pm

Hutchinson is 5 lbs lighter than Van Ness. Did you see Hutchinson playing LB? It's not going to happen, he'd get absolutely roasted in coverage.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:20 am

I'm excited to see Walker in the new defense. Something I hope we see more of is him blitzing. He has the speed to really be a factor in all facets of the game.

Hafley talked about the importance to putting the players in the best position to succeed. Walker is one of those guys that can be a game changer. He can be used as a blitzer in coverage. He can go sideline to sideline.
I do think changing the philosophy up front could allow Walker to be able to roam around a bit more. If Walker is a little more free to read and react I think he will succeed even more.

One thing Walker needs though is a guy next to him. Campbell has missed a decent amount of time and also has played hurt a lot. He maybe on the way out. McDuffie was good and improved. But i'm not sure he is a guy they want to start full time. I think they need to be looking for another ILB to run next to Walker.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:23 am

LB is like the defensive equivalent to RB, to be a great one you need instincts and awareness of what the offense is trying to accomplish. Hitting the wrong gap in the running game repeatedly makes me question Walker's instincts. However he has been a lot better in coverage than Patrick Queen was his 1st two years in the league. Queen had passed ratings against of 104 and 115 while Walker's were 63 and 93. So just having Walker attacking the LOS doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Queen also had PFF grades of 29 and 43 his 1st two years before making a big jump to 70 his 3rd year. Quay had grades of 52 and 61 so a big jump in his 3rd year could move him into the very good range.

Ray Lewis tells a story about meeting Peyton's wife early in his career at the Pro Bowl and she told him that Peyton watched film of him all the time. He realized if QBs are watching film of him all the time he should be watching film of them all the time. That's when he moved from being a very good LB to an elite one. Walker obviously doesn't have the instincts Lewis did but if he puts in the work off the field he can be a very good one.

-1 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:27 am

Don’t you think scheme seems to offer the potential for Walker to go back to doing what he was good at in college? Barry very rarely used him as such.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:05 am

He was their main coverage LB at Georgia that blitzed occasionally. They also used him at Edge once in awhile. I thought when they drafted him Barry might occasionally use him at Edge in a MINT front but that would have required a level of creativity that Barry didn't possess.

He is good at attacking the LOS but also above average in coverage for a LB. If they let Campbell go there's a good chance Walker is their best coverage LB. I'm not sure where Hafley will want him lined up if that's the case.

McDuffie wasn't good in coverage but there were starters in the league that were worse than he was and he made a couple plays later in the year that makes me think he can be alright on targets in front of him. On one he made a nice tackle in the flat that was a short gain for the offense. The one that I really noticed was he recognized a crosser early and started moving to pick the receiver up well before he got there. Half the passes in the league these days are within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

As long as they aren't asking him to backpedal and take big drops I think McDuffie will be alright. He also had 4 pressures in 19 blitzes. No slouch on a limited sample size. He's listed at 227 lbs though so I'm pretty sure they won't want him in the middle. Probably the LB that comes off the field in nickel.

3 points
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LeotisHarris's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:38 am

Sound coaching to get the kid (and he is still a kid) focused will go a long way toward fostering his success. Those "instincts" can be taught with repetition and, as you said, film study. Common sense is learned behavior. He's impulsive and extremely talented. I think Ken's correct. This should be his year if all the pieces fall into place.

3 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:51 am

3rd of 3 good comments in succession! LL, CW and you all highlight why Ken's article foreshadows a fun offseason seeing how the D is constructed and staffed. The Post Safety is critical...but Quay has potential to be the greatest beneficiary and show the most upside on the new D.

2 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:46 am

"One of the reasons Quay’s pass rush stats are so meager is because he hasn’t been used a lot as a rusher. Under Joe Barry, Walker did a lot of drops into coverage and edge patrol."

Too often last season, Walker would stand still for a second or two at the snap and drop into coverage or run to the ball carrier with a 7 yard/2 second play deficit. Even then, his quickness and speed would often help him recover. Hafley and Campanile will get him reacting and playing faster. That will immediately change the personality of the D.

My observation was when Barry did use Walker to pressure the QB, he was very effective. I believe Barry misused Walker's talents nearly as much as he did Alexander's.

It sounds like Hafley has already come to the conclusion Walker is going to be a key chess piece in his Defense. Georgia used him all over the front 7 to great effect. I expect to see Quay used the same way.

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:36 am

Walker blitzed three times as much as McDuffie or Campbell. He had 7 pressures on 59 blitzes, McDuffie 4 in 19 and Campbell 4 in 17. So he was less effective but the others had limited opportunities.

2 points
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CoachJV's picture

February 26, 2024 at 11:37 am

"Too often last season, Walker would stand still for a second or two at the snap and drop into coverage or run to the ball carrier with a 7 yard/2 second play deficit. Even then, his quickness and speed would often help him recover."

That's called a "Spy"... he stood still for a second or two to make sure the QB didn't take off up the middle on a run. So the delay was meant to be there for that reason. And - as you say - his speed would often help him recover.

1 points
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dobber's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:11 am

There will be ups and downs this season, but Walker should flourish as a WLB--I think that's always been where he was best-suited to play.

That said, they talk about a 4-2-5 base rather than a 4-3, and I agree that there isn't another suitable starting LB on the team right now. McDuffie is a try-hard guy, but undersized and a tick slow--he'll get exploited by teams on a regular basis. There's no depth in the LB room right now. Even with the "5", they need a mobile SS/ILB hybrid type and that guy's not on the roster right now either. It might be that the Packers' attempts to find those other guys may not pan out and Walker will be asked to play in a position less suited to his skillset--maybe MLB or SLB.

Plenty of roster movement coming, and there's some room to make changes through FA prior to the draft. I think the Packers will look for some roster depth in March at S and LB.

3 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:17 am

In Hafley's presser, it sounded like Hafley has yet to determine if Walker will play mike, will or sam LB...maybe even moving him around depending on the play situation.

Going to be fun observing this construction project!

0 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:37 am

That of course could be because he doesn’t want to communicate to other teams or his own personnel via a press conference. Everyone seems to think it’s obvious that Walker should be the Will. It seems so to me.

I’d like to see someone (more informed than I on ILB matters) try to articulate a coherent argument for him belonging in one of the other roles. That I think would be helpful.

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 10:04 am

I think you could make the case for playing him at SLB if you're going to be playing a ton of press. He has the size to get his hands on the TE and the speed to run with most of them. But I think while they will be playing more Cover 1 and 3 it won't be at near the rate he played it at BC.

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2024 at 10:18 am

And that’s really a core element underpinning this discussion. No one outside of Lambeau knows exactly what is coming. Lots of guesses, but Hafley is a guy who adapts to players and opponents. A very different quality of and depth rosters, ours and opponents means that if true, this won’t simply mirror what he did at Boston College. Yes, there’s difference in a philosophical bent, but the details are non existent and may not yet even be finalized in Hafley’s mind.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 09:47 am

McDuffie ran a 4.61 so I wouldn't call him slow. There are slower starting safeties in the league. He can't backpedal and cover but I think he's ok covering things in front of him. Like I said in an earlier comment I'd guess he's the one who comes off the field in nickel. It could spell trouble if he isn't.

2 points
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CanPackFan's picture

February 26, 2024 at 10:40 am

It's really hard to get a solid read on Quay due to the Barry factor. Barry generally didn't put players in a position to succeed. They were put in positions to play his soft schemes. And even though Barry was a LB coach in the past, his don't soft/less aggressive schemes didn’t allow Walker to blitz much.

Having said all that, I believe that the Hafley 4-3 possible change won't be the determining factor in Quays' success. Teams now play most downs in the nickel anyway, with only 2 LBs. Accordingly, another highly mobile LB will be desirable. And if LBs are truly the core essential piece of the defense, I am not sure a rookie can or should take on full snaps in this reconfigured defense?

Hypothetically, am not sure of the speed/mobility issues of Bobby Wagner these days, but it would be very interesting to see him in green and gold for a season or two? GPG

-2 points
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stockholder's picture

February 26, 2024 at 11:09 am

The Packers need Walker-
I've always said they will lose without him.
And Now is the time to use two picks on ILBs.
The 4-3-4 must have 2 more Walkers.

-3 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

February 27, 2024 at 03:01 pm

Maybe they trade him?

0 points
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stockholder's picture

February 27, 2024 at 03:21 pm

Not happening- Were not the Lions -
You remember those trades to fix ILB.
The Failures, 1 year wonders.
He just might end up outside.

0 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

February 27, 2024 at 04:27 pm

I would try to sign Kendricks as a free agent , if San Diego lets him go. He is a pure 4-3 MLB. Walker has a hard time getting home to the QB when blitzing. Not a guy to use a #22 choice on....

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ricky's picture

February 26, 2024 at 11:20 am

It seems likely the defense might start out slow, as they adjust to a new alignment, with new assignments and different coaches. At first, the players are going to be thinking rather than reacting, and there will probably be some defensive breakdowns as guys get used to the new DC's revamped schemes. What would be good to see is growth in the defense as the season progresses.

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barutanseijin's picture

February 26, 2024 at 05:57 pm

Maybe. I’ll believe it when it happens.

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