The Green Bay Packers’ defensive line was terrible last season.
How else can you describe a unit that recorded just six sacks and played a large role in the defense finishing 26th in yards allowed per rushing attempt?
As an answer, general manager Ted Thompson gave the position group a sweeping revamp.
Thompson selected Jerel Worthy in the second round and Mike Daniels in the fourth, signed unrestricted free agent Anthony Hargrove and added street free agents Phillip Merling and Daniel Muir. Free agent Howard Green was not re-signed, and there’s no guarantee returning players Mike Neal, Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Lawrence Guy will make the roster.
Raji, Pickett and Worthy are the only locks. The competition should be strong. The Packers will keep two or three more to fill out the depth chart. Whoever they are, they’ll have to keep fighting with Neal to return from his suspension after Week 4 and Hargrove after Week 8.
B.J. Raji (6-2, 337; fourth year): Raji’s up-and-down play can be criticized but nobody can be critical of his attitude. In 2010, he played 85.2 percent of the defensive snaps; in 2011, that slipped to “only” 79.3 percent. Those are outrageous numbers. The Packers need him to return to 2010 form, when he had 6.5 sacks and 31 run stops.
Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340; 12th year): It’s a pass-first league but Pickett’s run-stopping ability is invaluable. According to Pro Football Focus, Pickett led the defensive line with 20 run stops last season. Pickett, who turns 33 in October, hasn’t played more than 14 games since 2008.
Jerel Worthy (6-2, 308; rookie, R-2): Worthy, Michigan State’s first first-team All-American defensive lineman since Bubba Smith, not only is expected to provide a pass rush but the Packers want him to be a three-down player. He’ll battle C.J. Wilson for a spot in the base defense.
Jarius Wynn (6-3, 285; fourth year): Wynn started the season with three sacks in his first three games. In the final 13 games, he had no sacks and just two quarterback hits. He’s got 4.5 sacks in three seasons. His time could be up, either at the end of camp or when Neal and Hargrove return.
C.J. Wilson (6-3, 290; third year): Wilson might be the Packers’ most underrated defender. In limited playing time, he finished second among the defensive linemen with 19 run stops. His run-stop percentage of 9.6 ranked sixth among the NFL’s 3-4 defensive ends.
Mike Neal (6-3, 294; third year): The 2010 second-round pick has played in 10 of a possible 37 games (including playoffs) and recorded 11 tackles in his two seasons. He’ll start this season serving a four-game suspension for unauthorized use of the prescription drug Adderall.
Anthony Hargrove (6-3, 282; eighth year): Hargrove will start the season serving an eight-game suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal and coverup. Here’s why the Packers signed him: With Seattle last year, he had three sacks and 20 total pressures in 223 pass-rushing snaps. Raji led the Packers with 23 total pressures in 579 pass-rushing snaps.
Daniel Muir (6-2, 322; fifth year): Muir, who made the Packers’ roster as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2007, returns after starting 26 games for the Colts from 2008 through 2011. If he makes the team, he’d be the backup nose tackle.
Phillip Merling (6-5, 315; fifth year): Merling bombed as the 32nd pick in 2008, starting just five games, recording 3.5 sacks and tearing an Achilles during his four years in Miami. He was released before the draft. “It feels like a new start, a new beginning,” he said. Merling will be in the mix for a run-stopping role.
Lawrence Guy (6-4, 304; second year): Guy, a seventh-round pick last year, suffered a concussion during training camp and spent the year on injured reserve. Guy, a junior entry, got stronger and learned the playbook during his year on the sideline. He’ll join Merling and Wilson in battling for a run-stopping role in the base defense.
Johnny Jones (6-4, 310; first year): Jones missed the offseason practices because of an unspecified injury, a blow considering all the new faces. Last year, he went undrafted as a part-time starter at Marshall, failed to make Miami’s roster and spent most of the season on Green Bay’s practice squad.
Mike Daniels (6-0, 291; rookie, R-4): Daniels recorded 15.5 sacks during his Iowa career, including nine as a senior and four as a junior. He tore his labrum before Iowa’s bowl game but recorded two sacks anyway. He had surgery after the season and sat out the offseason work.
Total: 12. On 2011 opening roster: 6.
Final prediction (6): Raji, PIckett, Worthy, Wynn, Daniels, Wilson. (Note: Neal and Hargrove do not count while serving suspensions.)
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.