Well, it’s finally here; we are mere hours away from Packers football 2012, which means it’s also time to continue with our positional previews. Under the microscope tonight: the defensive line.
Like most of the defense following last year’s subpar performance, the defensive line needed improvements, and Thompson obliged with a busy offseason spent remodeling the defensive front. Bill Huber summarizes the changes:
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.
With twelve players in camp competing for likely half that number of spots, competition will certainly be fierce this year. Here’s how the players stack up:
With his play over the last few seasons and recent developments including a 4 game suspension for violating the substance policy, Mike Neal is edging closer and closer to bust territory. His injuries have only permitted him to play in nearly ¼ of possible games since he was drafted, and this latest suspension only further hurts his chances with many younger, healthier players eager for a roster spot. While he is not included in the roster during his suspension, Neal returning to the Packers in week 5 seems less and less likely.
C. J. Wilson
Among both fans and writers, C. J. Wilson has some of the highest expectations going into camp this year. Writes Huber:
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.
With these impressive numbers, I fully expect Wilson to play a large role in the run defense this season.
Hargrove’s performance with the Saints leaves no doubt as to the reasons why the Pack brought him on board, suspension or not. Obviously, roster spots and other logistics might be a minor issue, but Hargrove might be a valuable asset coming in fresh at the halfway point to a position that sees a lot of wear and tear on its players.
B. J. Raji
Raji’s playing time over the last two seasons has been staggering which to some extent explains the inconsistency of his play at such a physically demanding position. Raji is certainly the best option at NT, and it’s up to McCarthy and company to balance his playing time more effectively to make use of his full potential.
Pickett may be the best run defender on the roster this year, but his effectiveness will depend on his ability to stay health this year. Even though the league is trending more and more towards the pass, a healthy Pickett will be an invaluable asset to the defensive line.
As this year’s second round pick, Worthy has also been given high expectations by the fans and experts. Worthy should be able to make his immediate contributions to the pass rush, which has the potential to become a lethal weapon once more with Worthy, Matthews, and Perry attacking the quarterback in 2012.
Wynn, like Neal, will face an uphill battle to make and maintain a spot on the roster due to past performances, which include only 4.5 sacks in the last three seasons. It’s possible Wynn could be kept long enough to fill the roster until Hargrove returns from his suspension.
Jones suffered an “unspecified injury” during the offseason, which could very well make his quest for a roster spot difficult in the face of the heavy competition at defensive line this year. Assuming this injury isn't too serious, I can see Jones being a good practice squad candidate.
After a disappointing 3.5 sacks and 4 years in Miami, Merling sees his current spot
with the Packers as “a new beginning.” Although this shows he’s in the right frame of mind to make a second run at a roster spot despite a disappointing start to his career in Miami, his past performance as well as his injury history (torn Achilles,) will make it difficult for Merling to secure a final roster spot.
Returning from a season ending concussion will be by no means an easy feat for Guy, as such as injury could cause recurring problems throughout his career. Like many other prospective defensive linemen this year, Guy faces a challenging battle to secure a roster spot and must have a truly stand-out camp performance in order to be considered for the job.
Daniels has a solid college resume which certainly justifies his selection in the fourth round. In addition, his two sacks while playing through a bowl game injury show his determination and dedication—two necessary personality traits for a successful NFL career. Daniels will likely start the season as a backup, but could definitely see significant playing time this year.
Muir, like Merling, is looking for his “second chance” with the Packers after leaving the Colts. Like many others this year, he faces a difficult path to a roster spot, but could possibly fill a back up role at nose tackle, according to Huber this year.
I will publish my final, offensive line preview tomorrow, and then it’s time for training camp and beyond! Thanks for reading.