- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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And let there be no confusion about where Raji will line up this year.
"B.J. is going to be the nose [tackle]," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said this week.
That was going to be the plan last year until Raji ripped the biceps tendon off the bone in his right arm last August in a preseason game and missed the rest of the season.
In his place, Letroy Guion proved to be more than a capable fill-in on the middle of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' front three. With both Raji and Guion back for 2015 on one-year contracts, there may have been some question about who would play where.
After seeing Thursday's OTA practice, it appears the Packers intend to play them together. But the nose tackle position will primarily belong to Raji, with Guion and Mike Daniels flanking him in the 3-4 look. All will play in the two-down-linemen sub packages as well, which is probably more important given how much Capers uses the nickel and dime.
"I know we don't talk scheme, but I can say I won't be playing any end," Raji said. "I can say that."
Raji played the nose early in his career, including during his best season of 2010, before flip-flopping with defensive end Ryan Pickett. Perhaps not coincidentally, his production declined. When he returned last year on a one-year deal and with Pickett gone, he was assured of playing nose. He apparently got the same guarantee this time around.
Raji was a full participant in Thursday's OTA, the first open to reporters and the public. He is right on schedule after spending all of last season in Green Bay rehabbing after surgery.
Trgovac said Raji returned in the best shape he has been in during his seven NFL seasons, and the coaches say he appears hungry to prove himself.
"I like his attitude," Capers said. "I felt last year he was having a good camp, and the thing about B.J. is he was here in all the meetings and everything last year when he was on injured reserve. I think when a guy goes through that, they've got that added incentive because they appreciate being able to be out there and compete. So I like where B.J. is right now, and I hope he can get back and get started with the same kind of training camp he had last year. I'm excited about seeing him get back into things."
Raji said he worked on his flexibility this offseason and believes a lack of it may have contributed to his injury.
"One of things I noticed when I did my self-scout was my range of motion and my flexion," Raji said. "I don't know if you remember but back in 2010, 2011 I was 1,000-snap guy, I was an 80-percent [playing time] guy, and I guess all that wear and tear kind of stiffened my muscles. So I noticed that my range of motion and my flexion weren't as good as when I first got here in '09. And even with our tests here, some of my numbers weren't as good as when I was a rookie."
The Packers expect Raji's return and having him in the middle of their defensive line will improve their run defense, which was ranked last in the NFL halfway through last season but rallied to finish 23rd.
"His attitude, just like it was last year, his attitude was outstanding before he got hurt," Trgovac said. "He tells me that the year that he was off he got a new perspective on things. Not that he wanted the year off, but in the worst-case scenario he got hurt and had to sit out a year, he didn't just sit around and sulk, he found a way to use that to his advantage."