Last season, the Green Bay Packers ranked seventeenth in both total defense and scoring defense. It was a mediocre showing from a defense that is deep in both raw ability and talent. The inconsistencies on defense helped lead to a subpar 8-9 record and failure to make the postseason.
Part of the defensive inconsistency could be found at linebacker in the form of rookie first round draft pick Quay Walker.
If the Georgia standout were judged on just paper stats, you’d be tempted to call this past season a total success for a rookie. He registered a team-leading 121 tackles, five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, and seven passes defensed. According to Pro Football Reference, Walker, on his coverages, only allowed 53.3% of passes to be completed and held down the passer rating to 63.6.
But the numbers don’t tell the entire tale when it comes to Walker.
The young linebacker played inconsistently throughout the season, but was consistently mediocre when it came to rush defense. Defending against the run has been an issue, but one which can be mitigated if the Packers keep to their reported plans to use him more in pass rush situations.
The biggest problem for him, though, is in the area of mental discipline.
Walker was ejected twice last season in situations where he simply didn’t have the discipline to control his emotions. He got ejected in the Week 8 game against the Buffalo Bills when he pushed a Bills practice squad player on the sideline after a play. He was also ejected during the last game of the season against the Detroit Lions after shoving a medical professional who was tending to an injured player. The mental mistake against the Lions likely cost the Packers a playoff birth.
This lack of self-control has been a major topic of debate among fans and a cause for concern among the Packers coaching staff.
“He and I have spent a lot of time on that subject,” Packers inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti told TheAthletic.com. “At the end of the day, it comes down to me trusting him, him trusting me. He’s more than willing to learn from all his mistakes, especially those.”
Olivadotti’s plan for Walker is to keep his mind busy on the actual gameplay rather than everything else going on around him.
“Play to the whistle, and then be so busy in between snaps that you don’t even notice what’s going on between plays,” Olivadotti told USA Today.
If the coaches are talking about it, then it’s safe to assume its a major topic of conversation behind the scenes.
Lapses in execution are going to happen, especially with a rookie player. Loss of focus can also happen. But to make such glaring mental mistakes like Walkers’ speaks to something beyond focus and execution. They speak to, perhaps, mental and emotional flaws in a player, which are not so easy to fix.
Coming into his second season in the NFL, Quay Walker has to prove that he can temper his fire with reason or he might have a short field life with the Packers.