First-year Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst continues to separate himself from his predecessor. When Gutekunst took over as the general manager following the 2017 season, he stated he would explore all avenues of player acquisition. In just a few short months as the head of the Packers, he has done just that. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison is the latest acquisition in what is slowly becoming a long list of moves.
On the second to last Sunday without regular football, Gutekunst sent cornerback Lenzy Pipkins to the Colts for linebacker Antonio Morrison. Pipkins was an undrafted free agent in 2017. Morrison was a fourth round pick in 2016 for Indy. From a sheer value standpoint, it would appear as though Green Bay came out ahead in the deal. But, in reality, both players had difficult paths to playing time on their respective teams. The result is a change of scenery and better opportunities for playing times for both players. For both teams, they’ve acquired talent at positions at which talent was desperately needed. It’s a win-win, all around.
To Morrison, his time in Indianapolis was rather forgetful. The situation had become toxic. From the start, Morrison was expected to be a significant contributor to a Colts defense that, quite frankly, was in shambles. Fast forward to 2018 and the team is undergoing a defensive scheme change and Morrison no longer belongs. Through his first two NFL seasons, Morrison accumulated 153 tackles. 108 of those tackles came last year. For young players, all that you’re looking for is improvement. And that’s what Morrison did. He improved upon his rookie year. Yet he still struggled and eventually had the fan base calling for his head.
During this year’s preseason and training camp, Morrison received limited snaps and opportunities to make an impact in the new defense. Observers can assume that this is because the coaches deemed his style of play not fitting for their new defense. The third-year linebacker is a thumper. He stuffs the run and he lays the lumber. He is more of a traditional linebacker; a position that is slowly becoming irrelevant in today’s NFL. But, he does one thing very well. That one thing is stuffing the run.
Green Bay lost one of their top linebackers in Jake Ryan early in training camp due to an ACL tear. There were many questions as to how the team was going to replace his value on defense and on special teams. The immediate proposal as a solution to this problem was rookie linebacker Oren Burks. Burks had been outstanding thus far in the preseason. However, Burks suffered a shoulder injury during pre-game warm-ups before the Week 3 preseason game vs. the Oakland Raiders. The severity of this injury is still unknown.
Immediate impulses might lead you to think that Morrison’s role for Green Bay would be as a replacement for Burks. However, the two players are different. Burks specializes in pass coverage and is developing his ability as a run stopper. Morrison is the exact opposite. Morrison’s role on this defense is more likely one that is similar to what we would have seen from Jake Ryan this year.
Ryan’s role for 2018 most likely would have comprised of a first and second down run stuffer. Ryan also had a significant role on special teams. Morrison can easily slide into both of these responsibilities. This eases the pressure on Burks and doesn’t force undrafted rookies Ahmad Thomas and Greer Martini into bigger roles before they’re ready. The latter has caused problems for the Packers in the past.
Morrison can be a bit wild at times. This type of play has tarnished his profile in the eyes of the fans. However, when Morrison lands a big hit, it has the potential to be a game-changing one. That is not a bad quality to have in a guy who will be a situational player.
At times, Morrison flashed the ability to be an every-down linebacker in the NFL. However, mental lapses and inconsistency have plagued this idea. The third-year pro is only 23 years old, so there is definitely still time for him to put it all together. A change of scenery and a defensive coordinator known for getting the best out of his players could really bode well for Morrison. He will be put in opportunities to succeed.