In the eyes of his coaches, Brad Jones passed his first test at inside linebacker on Sunday.
In the wake of D.J. Smith’s season-ending knee injury against Houston two weeks ago, the fourth-year linebacker received his first career start playing inside during Sunday’s 30-20 win over St. Louis.
Jones, who made the conversion from outside to inside linebacker this offseason, assumed Smith’s role playing in all the team’s sub-packages, wearing the communication helmet from which plays were called into the huddle.
In his 60 defensive snaps, the 6-foot-3, 242-pound linebacker wasn’t as productive as Smith — he finished with only two tackles — but both Packers coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator were happy with how Jones played in his second start in two years.
“For Brad, being the first time in that role, he’s only going to get better,” McCarthy said. “There’s a couple things technique-wise that he’ll continue to improve on, but I was very pleased with the way our inside backers played.”
The Packers’ troubles at inside linebacker began during the first preseason game against San Diego on Aug. 9 when starter Desmond Bishop went down with a season-ending hamstring injury.
Smith, who started three games inside last year, took over from there and was an adequate replacement through the first six games before getting hit by Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown near the end of play, which caused his knee to buckle.
Insert Jones, who was also credited with one hit, one quarterback pressure and one 18-yard reception on two targets, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Packers still have plenty of options inside with veteran Robert Francois, second-year pro Jamari Lattimore and rookie Terrell Manning, but by all indications the job is going to stay with Jones, who was the first to replace Smith immediately after the injury against Houston.
“Bishop was our starting backer in our dime package and then we went to D.J. and now Brad had to handle that, so that was a new role for Brad,” Capers said. “You’re always interested in how a guy does in that role for the first time because Brad had a lot on his plate in the game yesterday.
“He did a good job. He did a good job with the communication and he played every down, so he did a pretty nice job.”