The Packers and Positionless Football

The Packers and Positionless Football

Humor me for a second: what position does Julius Peppers play?

The Packers have experimented with lining Morgan Burnett in the box as a linebacker-ish safety.

The Packers have experimented with lining Morgan Burnett in the box as a linebacker-ish safety.

I know the roster sheet says he’s a linebacker, but really, what position does he play?

When you watch the Packers this year, you’ll see him standing up at the end of the line and you’ll see him with his hand on the ground. You’ll see him as an interior rusher with four down linemen and you’ll see him as one of just two down lineman in obvious passing situations. You might even see him all by his lonesome as a single lineman in the Packers’ “Psycho” package.

So I’ll ask again: what position does Julius Peppers play?

I’m not asking because I really want an answer, obviously. I ask because I think the Packers are leading the way in one area of the “positionless football” revolution.

The Ringer recently put together an excellent piece on positionless football, centering on Arizona’s Deone Bucannon, a hybrid safety/linebacker the rest of the NFL is trying to imitate.

Even the Packers have experimented with Morgan Burnett in the box as a linebacker-ish safety. But I think the Packers are doing interesting positionless things in areas beyond safety and linebacker.

There’s a serious chance the Packers could keep just four defensive linemen on their 53 man roster. This due partly to Mike Pennel’s suspension, but it also speaks to the versatility of the players the Packers have in their front seven.

Datone Jones is technically a linebacker this year, but he’ll mimic Peppers to an extent in where he lines up. The same could be said of Nick Perry and even Kyler Fackrell, whose height points just as much to end as it does to linebacker.

Mike Daniels, too, is a hybrid of sorts. He’s a de facto end, but he fits just as well as an interior rusher. Ditto that for Dean Lowry, whose size is prototypical for an end but whose athleticism might be better used as an interior rusher.

You could make a similar case for a lack of obvious positions on offense as well. J.C. Tretter, though now a center, can also start at guard and tackle. Don Barclay has started at tackle and guard and got extended playing time at center against Cleveland. Even further down the roster, one of Josh Walker’s main selling points is his ability to line up as both a guard and a tackle.

This could be an accident, but I doubt it. Years ago, the Packers were already making headlines for their “army of clones,” similarly sized players who could fit into multiple positions. This feels like the logical extension of that idea, and it could be the ultimate direction of the entire NFL.

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