Last season, a move from the defensive line to outside linebacker helped Jamari Lattimore land his first job in the NFL.
A year later, a second switch may help him keep it.
During the first week and a half of the Green Bay Packers’ training camp, Lattimore has moved to inside linebacker in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, marking the third different position he’s played since his senior year at Middle Tennessee State, where he starred at defensive end.
After signing with Green Bay as undrafted free agent, Lattimore made the 2011 roster based more on his quickness and athletic ability than his size — a humble 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds coming out of college.
Lattimore played in nine games last season, but played mostly on special teams rather than the position next to his name in the game program.
Entering the offseason, the 23-year-old Lattimore was told to gain weight and took that notion to heart, adding about 13 pounds to his frame and returning to camp at a beefier 242 pounds.
“More intense workouts and eating more than I did last year, I think that’s the big change from last year to this year,” Lattimore said. “I wanted to do it more for myself to feel better on the inside — to hold my own, stand my ground.”
For all the positions Lattimore’s played during his football career, including his first stint at outside linebacker at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, this is the first time he’s lined up in the middle.
With Desmond Bishop out with a calf strain for the first week of camp, Lattimore received increased snaps with the second-team defense, giving him an opportunity to get acclimated to his new role while showcasing his offseason efforts.
The change in Lattimore’s tackling and physicality were easy to spot during Friday’s Family Night scrimmage, where he was in on several tackles, including on the first play of the night when he stopped running back James Starks for a 1-yard loss.
“It’s a big difference,” Lattimore said of his weight gain. “There’s a lot more ‘oomph’ in my punch when I strike somebody.”
Coaches first brought up the idea of moving Lattimore to inside at the start of the offseason. Initially, the change appeared ominous for his chances of making the roster again, but he’s looked good so far.
Operating primarily from the “Mack” slot, the move inside has allowed Lattimore to better unitize his speed and quickness — traits that helped make him Middle Tennessee State’s second all-time sack leader with 20½ in only three seasons after transferring from Dodge City.
“I think Jamari is a little more natural inside linebacker than outside,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I look for him to really take a step in the special teams. He’s also another individual from Year 1 to Year 2 who’s made a jump.”
When Lattimore left after minicamp, he made it an emphasis to keep building on his weight and strength through rest, and getting into a consistent routine of eating and working out.
With a tip of the cap to his girlfriend’s cooking, Lattimore got to where he wanted to be but still faces plenty of competition at inside linebacker. The team drafted North Carolina State’s Terrell Manning in the fifth round and returns promising second-year pro D.J. Smith, who’s already pushing Bishop and veteran A.J. Hawk for playing time.
Also a contributor on the first-team special teams unit, there’s something to be said for Lattimore’s ever-growing versatility.
“I guess they wake up and want to switch you, so no questions asked and I’m not going to ask any,” said Lattimore, smiling. “Right now, I’m an inside guy, but I want to keep it half-and-half. Where they want to put me, I’m going to try and play it.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.