GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) How the Green Bay Packers proceed with their first-round pick in the NFL draft could be a sign of the team's comfort level with the young inside linebackers on their roster.
Or not. General manager Ted Thompson has never been one to drop big hints.
Thompson stayed true to form Wednesday. He said picking the best player available is always the preference. He offered few clues about how moving linebacker Clay Matthews back to the outside could impact his decision when the Packers pick 27th overall on April 28.
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Mathews spent much of the last two seasons on the inside, helping shore up the run defense. And while he made the Pro Bowl as an inside linebacker last season, Matthews is at his best rushing the passer and wreaking havoc in the backfield.
''Yeah, it's a coaching decision. We've had a little bit of fortune with him playing outside backer, too,'' Thompson said wryly.
Assuming Green Bay sticks with the plan, two less experienced players would likely take over. Jake Ryan started the last seven games of his rookie season, including the two playoff games.
Sam Barrington played well when he took over as a starter alongside Matthews in November 2014. But Barrington missed most of last season after hurting his right foot in the opener.
Joe Thomas, a former practice squad player, played on passing downs when the Packers used six defensive backs and Matthews as a pass rusher.
''They've been able to get some experience, and Sam's experience got thwarted a little bit with the injury,'' Thompson said. ''But we think we've got a pretty good group.''
One that could be bolstered if Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland was available when the Packers picked in the first round. That seems unlikely at No. 27.
Or Thompson could elect to replenish the defensive line after veteran B.J. Raji announced this offseason he was taking a ''hiatus'' from the game. Baylor's Andrew Billings, or a pair of Alabama products - A'Shawn Robinson or Jarran Reed - might be tempting if available.
Maybe the Packers give quarterback Aaron Rodgers another weapon and take Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry.
Or it could be none of the above. With Thompson, you never know.
''Well, we try to draft the best player available. I say this every year and everybody says, `Yeah, right.' We think it's important to stay focused and try to take the best player,'' Thompson said.
He does have a track record to prove that the plan works. The Packers have been to the playoffs seven straight seasons. A run of four straight division titles ended last season when Green Bay was leapfrogged by the Minnesota Vikings.
''I think our personnel department does a great job finding guys,'' defensive lineman Mike Daniels said this week. ''To get Clay back on the edge is good because he's carved out a heck of a career for himself on the edge. We've got guys that can get it done in the middle.''
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