Late offseason pickup De'Vondre Campbell doing it all for Packers
GREEN BAY - There are players Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur knows he can count on and there are players LaFleur knows he can count on every single play.
Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell stands with the second group.
Since the Packers signed Campbell to a one-year, $2 million contract June 9, LaFleur has gotten everything he could have dreamed of from the 28-year-old journeyman, whom the Atlanta Falcons drafted in the fourth round in 2016.
LaFleur happened to be on the Falcons' staff that year and when general manager Brian Gutekunst made the move to strengthen the team’s depth at inside linebacker, the Packers coach was 100% on board with the move.
Though defensive coordinator Joe Barry has lamented that adding Campbell late in the offseason has limited some of the ways he can use him, he has had him wear the helmet radio and put him in charge of calling the play in the huddle and setting up the defense. LaFleur said his presence has meant a lot to the defense.
“I think he's just a steady, calm voice out there on the field,” LaFleur said Wednesday. “He's really done a great job of taking a leadership role and he's very, very consistent.
“I've always respected him from going back to our days together in Atlanta. I just loved the way he approached the game.”
Campbell has been more than just a steadying force. At a position that features second-year starter Krys Barnes, rookie Isaiah McDuffie and two guys – Oren Burks and Ty Summers – whose main roles are playing special teams, he has been as productive as anyone on defense.
Campbell leads the team with 30 tackles, including 20 solos (which is one less than team leader Adrian Amos), and he has two of the team’s four takeaways this season (an interception against Detroit and a fumble recovery against San Francisco).
He has played all but six snaps on defense and even filled in on special teams against the 49ers when the Packers needed someone to replace the injured Barnes.
"Campbell is a big, big-time professional,” special teams coach Maurice Drayton said. “He does not have to, but he chooses to sit in on all of our special teams meetings. I think he’s in the league, seven, eight years, and there’s a reason, because he’s a professional.
“When (Barnes) went down, we didn’t even have to go to him. He was already, ‘Coach, I’m ready to rock and roll.' And then he does a good job protecting (on punt coverage) and he goes down to make the tackle. Anytime you have people who are selfless, man, that’s awesome.”
The most important part of Campbell’s game on defense is his consistency. Signed to complement Barnes, who is more of an early-down, run-stuffing inside linebacker, the 6-3, 232-pound Campbell plays in all the packages because he’s fast enough to cover tight ends man-to-man and rally to the ball in zone coverage.
In the last two games, Barry has used him a lot in zone coverage, but he has also moved him to the edge when the offense is in two-tight end sets or a jumbo package featuring six offensive linemen. Against the 49ers, Barry had Campbell line up over the slot receiver occasionally, all to take away the outside in their zone running game.
When the ball is thrown in his area, Campbell has been quick to the ball and almost always on point with his tackling (one missed tackle in three games).
“Obviously, you can see the production that he's been able to do on the field,” LaFleur said. “And he's come up with some key takeaways and we're just lucky to have a guy like that.”
King, Barnes in concussion protocol
The club announced Sunday that cornerback Kevin King would not play against the 49ers because of illness, but when he returned to the facility Monday and was examined further, it turned out he had a concussion.
LaFleur didn’t say when King might have suffered the injury, but he said they held him out because he wasn’t feeling well.
“All I know is he came to us on Sunday and he wasn't feeling well and you know obviously we're on the road and had our doctors look at him when we were there,” LaFleur said. “Then, back on Monday they did further evaluations and that's when they determined (he had a concussion) and put him in the protocol.”
Barnes, who suffered a concussion against the 49ers, stretched with the team Wednesday but he did not take part in practice.
Left tackle Elgton Jenkins (ankle) and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring) were at practice but did not do any drills. Running back Aaron Jones (ankle) was a limited participant.
Defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster was placed on the COVID-19 list Tuesday.
The Packers’ opponent Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers, reported that outside linebacker T.J. Watt (groin) returned to practice and worked on a limited basis. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (pec) and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (ribs) were among the four players who did not practice.
Drayton stays positive
Drayton, who spoke to reporters for the first time since LaFleur reported he had lost family members just before the 49ers game, said he was holding up well, mostly with the support of those in the organization.
Drayton, who said he comes from a “close, close, close family” said his grandmother and a first cousin passed away over the weekend. He coached in the game because he said it was important for him to keep moving forward, especially with the commitment he felt as part of a team.
“I kind of live by a mantra of you have to close ranks and keep marching,” Drayton said. “That's not to make light of anything that's going on at the time. But that mentality has always helped us to go forward. So once again, it's not about me, it's about us.”
Taking the victory in stride
LaFleur said there is still a lot of excitement in the building over the dramatic victory over the 49ers, but he said it’s important that the team transition into the new week.
“I think there was a ton of excitement,” he said. “I think anytime that you're on the road in a hostile environment against one of the premier teams in the league, and you win on a last-second field goal that is pretty exciting.
“But you know, you also have to move on to the next game. And we've got another great opponent coming in here, a team that has been as consistent as any team across the National Football League over I don't know how many years now in Mike Tomlin’s era.
“So, we know that they're going to be ready to go and I think they're a team that it looks like they're going to get a little healthier. I know we're going to get their best shot and we're going to have to be ready to go in order to pull out a win.”