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Packers: Mike McCarthy scoffs at possible lack of depth at linebacker

June 3, 2017 GMT

GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy not only isn’t worried about what would seem — to the untrained eye, apparently — to be a thin outside linebacker corps, the Green Bay Packers coach claims his team has no depth issues whatsoever at the position.

“(I) feel good about the depth at outside linebacker,” McCarthy said Thursday morning before his team’s second open-to-the-public organized team activity practice of the spring. “This is probably as good as depth as we’ve had there in some time. I think you’ll really see some of our guys jump out in training camp as we get the pads on.”

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The Packers had better hope so, especially if Clay Matthews and Nick Perry can’t avoid the injury bug this season.

There’s little question that if the Packers’ top two players there — six-time Pro Bowler Matthews and Perry, who led the team in sacks last season with 11 — are top-line starters if healthy. But both players have battled injury issues during their careers, including last year, when Matthews missed four games with a hamstring injury (and played half the season one-armed because of a shoulder injury), and Perry had the healthiest year of his career but still missed two games with a broken hand.

There’s almost no proven depth behind them following the offseason free agent departures of likely Pro Football Hall of Fame pass rusher Julius Peppers, who had 7.5 sacks last season and signed a one-year deal with Carolina after the Packers made no effort to re-sign him, and 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, who had only one sack but led the team in QB hits (16) before signing with Minnesota.

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“As you guys are well aware, it’s a volatile position. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of it, and anytime you lose those guys like Julius and Datone, you’re going to take a hit,” Matthews said. “But you have to be real excited with what Nick was able to do when healthy, and me coming back healthy off the shoulder injury. You have to feel good of the guys who are running with the 1s right now.”

But beyond that? The current depth chart has fourth-year vet Jayrone Elliott, who has flashed pass-rushing talent but has been largely relegated to special-teams duty; second-year man Kyler Fackrell, a third-round pick a year ago who played sparingly as a rookie; and rookie fourth-round pick Vince Biegel, who is sidelined until at least training camp following foot surgery. After that it’s Reggie Gilbert, who spent last season on the practice squad, and a handful of rookie free agents.

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“I think obviously with Clay and Nick we have two guys we think can be very productive for us,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Kyler Fackrell going into his second year, you always expect a pretty good jump from a first-year player going into his second year. And Jayrone Elliott, I think we’ve all seen Jayrone make some very athletic plays. I feel good about those four guys.”

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