Defensive Line Seeking Worthy Successors

Thornton (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Packers' defensive line was thin, even with Jerel Worthy on the roster. Now, with Worthy traded to New England, that unit is dangerously thin in terms of proven talent.

The Green Bay Packers won’t miss Jerel Worthy. After all, he played 12 snaps last season and hadn’t strapped on the pads since the playoff loss at San Francisco.

Nonetheless, a defensive line that lacked depth before Worthy was traded to New England has one fewer option.

B.J. Raji has started 62 of the past 64 games and seems at home at nose tackle.

Beyond that, though, this defensive line is as green as the Lambeau Field turf.

Mike Daniels, who will start at one end position, is coming off a big season with 6.5 sacks but was used mostly as an interior pass rusher. He started one game in his first two seasons.

Datone Jones, who will start at the other end position, didn’t start any games as a rookie first-round pick. Jones was used almost exclusively as an interior pass rusher and saw his playing time reduced late in the season.

Josh Boyd, a fifth-round pick last year, played only 14 snaps in the first 10 games of last season before breaking into the rotation.

After that, the Packers appear dangerously thin up front.

“It’s kind of the nature of our game now,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Wednesday. “There’s been a number of places where we’ve gone without a lot of experience, and some of our young guys have gained experience just because of that, and that makes you better in the long run.”

Where do the Packers turn for depth? Worthy was sent to New England for a six-pack of Samuel Adams. Letroy Guion, a street free agent who started 28 games for the Vikings the past two seasons, hasn’t practiced because of an injured hamstring. The longer the injury lingers, the longer the odds that Guion sticks around, though Capers spoke highly of him on Wednesday.

“Coach the guys we’ve got. Coach the guys we’ve got,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said when posed that question. “That’s just my job description is to coach the guys that are here as hard as I can. Any other decisions that are made in regards to personnel are questions not for me. That’s for Ted (Thompson) and Mike (McCarthy) and the people above me.”

Up next in the platoon would be Khyri Thornton, a third-round pick out of Southern Mississippi. He’s had a quiet training camp.

“I think Khyri is getting better,” Trgovac said. “He still has a ways to go but he’s getting better. He’s another young rookie that just keeps learning and absorbing. He’ll have three more games to keep getting better. He does some good things and sometimes he looks like a rookie, which is not unexpected.”

Undrafted rookies Mike Pennel, Carlos Gray and Luther Robinson round out the depth chart. Pennel, who was dismissed from Arizona State and wasn’t particularly productive at Colorado State-Pueblo in 2013, has the edge in that group. Men who weigh 332 pounds with his skill-set don’t grow on trees. He made a splash on Family Night and has continued to show up on a regular basis.

Unless the plan is to keep just five defensive linemen and use Mike Neal in a pinch, time is of the essence for Trgovac. While it’s true there are three preseason games remaining, there are only seven practices left. Thus, time is running out to evaluate the roster and formulate a depth chart worthy of taking into Seattle.

“Are they ready to go right now? Absolutely not,” Trgovac said of the young players. “They’ve played one preseason game and that’s what the next three games are for. I like the way they work, I like their attitude. We still have three preseason games to get them ready. That’s what they’re there for.”


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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