On the last day of minicamp, training camp may have suddenly gotten a lot busier for Jamari Lattimore and Brad Jones.
Moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker for the recently concluded OTA sessions, Lattimore and Jones were back at their old spots on the final day of offseason workouts, rushing the passer off the edges rather than taking on centers and guards in the middle of the defense.
While nothing is set in stone, both players interpreted the change as an indication they could be cross-trained at both linebacker positions in training camp. Combine that with their ongoing duties on special teams, and that’s a potentially heavy workload they’ll have to be prepared for mentally come July 26.
“Just have to stay in the books, you know?” Lattimore said. “The more you can do, the more you can help. That’s how I look at it. I look at it as a positive, not a negative.”
The same goes for Jones.
“I don’t have a life other than football anyway,” he said. “Literally, all I do is go home and study, but I like it. Studying is kind of my thing.
“It’s been a cross-training journey, I guess. If I get to dabble in a little bit of both, that would be awesome.”
Despite getting taxed with extra work and responsibility, the two are taking the right approach. Given the current state of the roster, their best route to a spot on the final 53 is to prove their versatility has value.
Over the spring, the Packers added first-round draft pick Nick Perry and impressive undrafted rookie Dezman Moses to a group of outside linebackers behind Clay Matthews that already included Erik Walden, Frank Zombo and Vic So’oto. At inside linebacker, D.J. Smith and Robert Francois emerged last season as the top backups to Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk, with fifth-round pick Terrell Manning added to that mix.
That’s a bevy of competition at both positions, as well as on special teams, and it doesn’t take a calculator to figure out there won’t be room for everyone.
Lattimore made the roster last season as an undrafted rookie as he transitioned from college defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. He said his overall knowledge of the defense grew significantly by working on the inside all spring, and he believes that will improve his instincts at the more familiar outside spot.
“Inside helped me out a lot, to read everything, so now I can try to go play as fast as I can without thinking what the play is or how to line up,” he said. “It was much faster and I felt more comfortable.”
Jones added that seeing the field from a completely different angle – and not having an offensive lineman or tight end in his face at the snap – was the biggest adjustment to working inside, but it was definitely beneficial.
“It’s the vision,” said the fourth-year pro and former seventh-round pick. “You’re farther away, and when you’re standing back there, you have to read it all, and you have to make the calls and get everybody set up.
“I don’t know how everything is going to shake out. Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll just be ready for anything and everything.”
That includes special teams, where Jones finished one off the team lead with 11 coverage tackles last year. Lattimore earned a special teams game ball in Week 3 at Chicago last year for a pair of stops on kickoffs.
While Lattimore admitted it might be “tough on the brain sometimes” to know so many different assignments, he’s looking forward to it if he’s challenged in that manner in training camp.
“I’ll just try to be an all-around player,” he said. “Whenever I’m called, go in and do my job and try to make an impact. I’m trying to do everything full speed.”
So is Jones, who made his biggest impact on defense his rookie year of 2009 with four sacks as a late-season starter. After missing most of 2010 due to injury, he worked his way back into the starting lineup at outside linebacker for the playoffs last year. He recorded the defense’s only sack against the Giants and blocked a field goal in that game.
“Honestly, I just play hard,” he said. “The key is making plays, making as many as you can. Eventually the cream rises to the top and they see it, they remember.”