The race to replace D.J. Smith is officially on for the Green Bay Packers’ reserve inside linebackers.
With Monday’s revelation the second-year linebacker sustained a season-ending knee injury during Sunday’s 42-24 win over Houston, the Packers find themselves looking for a replacement inside for the second time in three months.
After starting three games in place of Desmond Bishop last season, Smith was thrust into an every-down role for the first six weeks of this season after Bishop tore his hamstring in the Packers’ preseason-opener against San Diego on Aug. 9.
Smith suffered the injury in the second quarter on Sunday after getting blindsided by Texans offensive lineman Duane Brown toward the end of an Arian Foster run.
Third-year linebacker Brad Jones replaced Smith as the ‘buck’ linebacker next to A.J. Hawk for the remainder of the game, but neither Packers coach Mike McCarthy nor defensive coordinator would commit to naming the outside-turned-inside linebacker as Smith’s replacement yet.
The Packers kept all six their linebackers who played inside during training camp and have plenty of options to chose from in Jones, another outside-moved-inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore, third-year veteran Robert Francois and rookie Terrell Manning.
“Well, we’ll take the week for game planning,” McCarthy said Monday. “We have some ideas for everybody. Needs to be identified and detailed. Obviously, Robert and Brad, Jamari, they all have a lot of special team responsibility, so we got to make sure special teams and defense are on the same page on how we utilize our players.
Jones, Lattimore and Francois all contribute in a special-teams capacity, but special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum wouldn’t go as far to say they’d need to be relieved of their duties if promoted to being starter with the defense.
However, they also have Manning at their disposal. A fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State who’s been inactive for four of the first five games, McCarthy praised Manning for his work on special teams when given the opportunity, but also admitted he isn’t as far along defensively.
Still, he could be used to free up one of the other three for an expanded role on defense or the Packers could use a by-committee approach in certain packages to stem the tide.
“I think we have to take a look at these guys and see where they are,” Capers said. “They’re all capable of handling certain facets of the game. We’re playing a lot of different personnel groups and sometimes it’s good to have guys who are specialists in their personnel group. We’ll take a look at them on the practice field this week and certainly discuss it as we go through game-planning meets (today) and decide what direction we want to head.”