2014 Packers Training Camp Battles: Defensive Line
We’ve highlighted where the training camp competition lies for the Green Bay Packers offense, so let’s get on to the defense, where there NEEDS to be some competition.
The Packers defense has been mired in suckitude for years now and last year, that suckitude started with this group. The defensive line.
Two-thirds of the starting three are gone or at least we assume they are. Both Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly remain free agents and despite the Packers public posturing, we don’t believe they have any intention of signing either guy.
So that means we’ll be rolling into the season with two new starters on the defensive line. We’ve got an idea of who those guys will be. Of course, assuming the Packers have finally learned their lesson about just handing guys starting jobs instead of making them earn them, then nobody in this group is a lock.
Here are the suspects.
Ah, this fat bastard. Talk about the defensive line sucking last year, it started with fat man Raji. We’ve marveled at these stats before: 17 tackles, zero sacks. Think about that for a second — Raji had 17 tackles ALL SEASON! He’s right there up front! He’s got the first opportunity to tackle a running back! In addition to that, Raji hasn’t had a sack since 2011. Two full seasons. No sacks. Anyway, Raji was in a contract year last year and didn’t seem to realize it. Well, he’s in a contract year again this year because the Packers only gave him a one-year deal this offseason. Maybe he’ll realize it this time.
The other big difference for Raji is that he’s moving back to nose tackle after spending a lot of time at defensive end. To be fair, Raji has played his best football in the middle of the line. He’ll get to do that again with Pickett gone.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. The Packers are probably going to use Peppers at outside linebacker and you’re probably right. But let’s think about this for a second. Julius Peppers has never played outside linebacker. The last time the Packers tried to convert a top-tier pass rushing defensive end to outside linebacker, Aaron Kampman was a square peg and the position was a round hole.
Peppers’ body says he’s an outside linebacker in the Packers scheme. That said, you’ve all heard the Packers blathering on about adapting their scheme to the personnel instead of the other way around, like they’ve stubbornly done for so many years. That means they’ve got all kinds of grandiose plans about moving Peppers around. Whether those come to fruition remains to be seen.
No defensive lineman was as disappointing as B.J. Raji last year, but Datone Jones came close. All we heard about all offseason was how this guy was a three-down player and an athletic freak. That set our expectations pretty high for the 2013 first-round pick. A mere 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks later and we were busy brushing off the bust label. Jones’ playing time actually diminished as the season went on. Not a good sign.
There has been talk of an ankle injury slowing Jones all season. There have been whispers that he wasn’t able to pick up the game or the scheme. Whatever the problem was, Jones has a clean slate this year and he’ll be given every opportunity to win a starting job.
In his second season, Daniels became the Packers best defensive lineman. And he wasn’t even a starter. In 2013, Daniels posted 23 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He did that with just one start and both of those totals led all Packers defensive lineman. That’s pretty pathetic, but not a reflection on Daniels. He’s a comer.
Daniels is also doing his best to take on a leadership role, something the Packers defense desperately needs. He’s been vocal all offseason and looks like he’s ready to take it to the next level.
Speaking of busts… we’ve got something for you, Jerel. Alright, alright, we’ll give him another year. Worthy was a second-round pick back in 2012. As a rookie he played in 14 games, with four starts, and came up with 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Then he blew out his knee. Worthy was available to the Packers for the stretch run last year, but played in only two games. He had one tackle.
We’re not going to say the Packers have written Worthy off, but it’s sure starting to look like it. He was unimpressive as a rookie and completely forgotten about last year. So much so that he couldn’t break the rotation on an awful defensive line. Worthy doesn’t need to worry about being a starter. He needs to worry about making the roster.
Boyd was a fifth-round pick last year. We didn’t hear much from him for the first half of the season. Then he started taking snaps away from Jones and making the occasional play in the second half. This is how the rookie trajectory is supposed to look, Datone. It goes up as the season goes on.
Boyd finished his rookie year with just six tackles, but flashed enough potential to make you believe he can make a considerable jump this year.
This guy played for the Vikings last season. Those turds cut him. So what’s he doing on the Packers? That’s a damn good question. I mean, why you’d rather have this guy instead of Johnny Jolly is a mystery only Big Ted has figured out. And he isn’t telling.
Guion had 21 tackles and a sack for the Vikings last year, while starting 13 games. So he’s been an NFL starter. An NFL starter for the Vikings, but an NFL starter nonetheless. Probably not anyone’s first choice, but you’ve got to think he’ll be in the mix.
Thornton was a third-round selection this year. He’s probably going to be one of those Ted Thompson finds. No one else thought much of Thornton coming out of Southern Miss, but the Packers loved him. So forget that they could have drafted him in the fifth round, this guy is probably destined to strengthen the perception that Big Ted is a draft genius.
Does that mean he’s going to start in year one? Thornton has a tough road if that’s his goal, but don’t be surprised when this guy is better than everyone thought.
If there’s a certainty here — and there isn’t — then it’s Mike Daniels. He’s ascending as a player, growing into a leadership role and, let’s be frank, was better than the starters last season as a backup. Hmmmm… maybe we should start this guy?
This is your year, Mike.
Although we don’t expect much from him, we’re also tabbing B.J. Raji as the starter at nose. Will he earn it? Maybe. Will he even have to? We doubt it.
Raji was dog shit last year, but the Packers kept trotting him out there anyway. There’s something about mediocre talents that Big Ted picks in the first round. They just automatically get starting jobs as long as they’re in Green Bay. It’s the case with A.J. Hawk and it’s been the case with Raji. Why would this year be any different?
The smart money says the third starter is Datone Jones. You’ve got to start him at some point, right? Well, he’s got to do something to earn that right. In fact, he can probably do anything and the Packers will give him the nod. We’re just not sure Jones is the guy everyone made him out to be.
If last season was any indication, Jones doesn’t quite get it.
Therefore, we’re going with Julius Peppers as a starter at defensive end. Frankly, Peppers on the line with Mike Neal or Nick Perry at outside linebacker is much more appealing than Jones or Worthy on the line and Peppers at OLB.