Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Will the Packers' Defensive Line Look Like in 2011?

Johnny Jolly's latest boneheaded decision to use and possibly sell codeine has unequivocally ended his playing career with Green Bay. A second suspension from the NFL wouldn't be out of the question, but the greater question is whether he'll be able to avoid jail time after his second offense... and there's absolutely no reason to keep him on the roster now.

So, what now for the Packers? Fans had speculated that Jolly could provide a boost to the Packers' defensive line corps, which isn't the surest thing going into the season. Let's take a look at our players and their prospects for 2011.

First, The Goners:

Cullen Jenkins, #77, DE: 6'2", 302 lbs. Age: 30. 

 Jenkins, one of the team's few remaining players from the Mike Sherman era, will almost certainly leave the Packers in free agency. He's played out the four-year contract he signed in 2006, and while he nearly always had some sort of nagging injury, Jenkins registered a career-high seven sacks this year while starting just eight games. In addition, judges that he had the second-highest percentage of pressures per rush of any interior lineman. The Packers have shown little interest in re-signing him, and he can play virtually any position except nose tackle (since 2006, Jenkins has played as a 4-3 DE, 4-3 DT, 3-4 DE and 3-4 nickel rusher). Jenkins will get a huge payday someplace, and the Packers seem content to move on with whom they have.

Justin Harrell, #91, DE: 6'4", 315 lbs. Age: 27. 

Oooh, boy. Well, unless the Packers are completely insane, Harrell will get no more than a look in training camp and will not make the opening day roster. Despite having every physical tool you could want from a DE, Harrell has not recorded a sack in four years of play and has started only two games (2007). In addition, he's been active for just seven games in the past three years due to various injuries. No, he'll be released, and good riddance to him.

The Big Names

 B.J. Raji, #90, NT/Nickel Rusher: 6'2", 337 lbs. Age: 24

After a nondescript rookie season in which he was hindered by a high ankle sprain, "The Freezer" moved from DE to NT, recorded 6.5 sacks and had an unforgettable pick-six against Chicago in the NFC Championship game. Because the Packers played in their nickel defense about 75% of the time last year, Raji lined up more often as a nickel rusher and not at his usual nose tackle spot. He was a rock at any position, however, and often played more than 60 snaps a game. In the first game against the Vikings this year, he played the entire game as one of only three healthy linemen (Cullen Jenkins was a game-time scratch) and performed well. He's the surest thing on the Packers' line right now.

Ryan Pickett, #79, DE: 6'2", 340 lbs. Age: 31

 "Big Grease", a ten-year veteran originally drafted by St. Louis, isn't used as much under Dom Capers as he was in the days of the 4-3 defense. More run-stuffer than pass-rusher, Pickett recorded just one sack last year in limited playing time, as Capers tended to send Jenkins and Raji onto the field in nickel packages. Pickett signed a four-year contract last year and will make a modest $2.7 million in 2011, but he isn't really needed at DE except for depth purposes. His base salary will be $4.5 million in 2012 and $5.4 million in 2013, and it'll be interesting to see if he's still in the Packers' plans at that time. It's important to note that Pickett is looked up to as a leader in the Packers' locker room, particularly on the defensive line.

Howard Green, #95, DE: 6'2", 340. Age: 32

Identical to Pickett in height and weight, Green was signed just before the Packers' victory over New York and provided depth throughout the season. He's kind of just a big guy without much short-area quickness, but he proved difficult to move against the run and made the biggest play of his career in Super Bowl XLV, bulling through Steelers guard Chris Kemonatu to knock down Ben Roethlisberger and cause an interception. Green was picked up for a song as a "street" free agent, and there's no reason the Packers wouldn't bring him back in camp. With a summer of conditioning and game-planning, he's worth at least an extended look as a reserve.

Mike Neal, #96, DE: 6'3", 294 lbs. Age: 23

There's a lot to like about Mike Neal. He's phenomenally strong, and although he was pretty raw in his rookie training camp, he appeared to be developing a good arsenal of pass-rush moves. I remember watching the Green Bay-Washington game in person and just being awed at how he, Jenkins and Raji were dominating the Redskins' offensive line. After the game, Mike Shanahan said that that Packers' defensive line corps was the best one in the league.
The problem is that Neal couldn't stay healthy. After a solid training camp, Neal suffered a rare abdominal injury and was out for the first three games of the season. He forced a fumble in the fourth game (Detroit) and recorded a sack in the fifth (Washington), but injured his shoulder and went on injured reserve. It's a bit early to call him injury-prone, but, well... The Packers appear to be counting on him to replace Jenkins, which he is completely able to do, in my opinion. But if he never gets on the field, the Packers better have a backup plan before the season starts.

C.J. Wilson, #98, DE: 6'3", 290 lbs. Age: 23

A promising rookie, Wilson was fairly stout against the run in training camp and then bulked up as the year went on. He appeared in garbage time against the Falcons in the divisional playoff round and recorded a sack of Matt Ryan, the Packers' fifth of the game. He was active in 15 regular-season games and actually started in the Super Bowl. Wilson was used a lot during a four-game stretch when Jenkins was injured and showed some potential as a hard-nosed run defender. We'll see what he can do in this training camp, but he has every chance to earn a starting spot.

Jarius Wynn, #94, DE: 6'3", 285 lbs. Age: 24

Beaten out by Wilson for the last spot on the line in 2010, Wynn was resigned almost immediately after Harrell tore his ACL in the first game. He's hung around the Packers for two seasons now but hasn't shown all that much; he's not stout against the run, and while he does have some pass-rush capability (he recorded the only sack of Brett Favre in the first Vikings game), Wynn simply appears too light to play as a 3-4 DE. He'll hang around in training camp this year, but if the Packers draft a DE (as seems likely), Wynn will be the first one to get cut.

Sum Up: What To Do?

The Packers will have a passel of decent players (Pickett, Wilson, Green) on the line, but if Neal gets hurt, this would be a pretty nondescript group except for Raji. Neal and Pickett are penciled in as the starting 3-4 DEs, but drafting another player with pass-rush capability would enable this line to dominate opposing offenses. I've come around to the idea of 'drafting to a position of strength'; the Packers aren't exactly weak on the line, but by beefing up their depth here they could conceivably be unstoppable. Adding a player like Corey Liuget, Phil Taylor, Cameron Heyward or J.J. Watt could do that.

1 comment:

Yash said...

interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

Packers and Movers Hasthinapuram Chennai

Post a Comment