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Saturday, August 23, 2014
Packers must go younger without B.J. Raji

By Rob Demovsky

 

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The immediate reaction when a player gets hurt is to bring back an aged veteran to replace him, but the Green Bay Packers should -- and likely will -- resist that temptation.

Raji
General manager Ted Thompson would have a couple of those options to replace starting nose tackle B.J. Raji, who has a torn right biceps and learned on Saturday that he will miss the entire season.

But don't look for the Packers to bring back Ryan Pickett, who teamed with Raji on the defensive line the past five seasons. The same is likely the case for Johnny Jolly, who was the third member of the starting defensive line in Green Bay last year.

Both Pickett and Jolly are out of work and available, but neither fits what the Packers want to do on defense this season. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers aspires to be quicker across the front line, which means they have to get younger. Pickett will turn 35 in October, while Jolly turned 31 in February. Also, Jolly is coming off a neck injury that required fusion surgery.

A year after the Packers started a three-man defensive line that combined to weigh 1,000 pounds -- with Raji at 337, Pickett at 338 and Jolly at 325 -- this season they planned to pair Raji with Mike Daniels (305) and Datone Jones (285).

The Packers signed former Minnesota Vikings backup Letroy Guion to play behind Raji, but Guion has yet to practice because of a hamstring injury.

That leaves former fifth-round pick Josh Boyd, who replaced Raji after his injury on Friday against the Oakland Raiders, as the most likely replacement. It would mean the starting defensive front would feature a pair of second-year players (Boyd and Jones) and a third-year pro (Daniels). The Packers also are high on undrafted rookie Mike Pennel, who likely would have made the team even before Raji’s injury.

While the Packers lose a starter in Raji, he's not a full-time player. Last season, Capers used his base 3-4 defense on just 252 of 1,015 snaps (24.8 percent). Raji was slated to see some playing time in the nickel package, but Daniels and Jones are the primary duo in that package. Raji would not have played at all in the dime defense.

For Raji, the injury comes at the worst possible time. The 28-year-old former first-round pick signed just a one-year, $4 million contract this offseason with the hope that he could improve his stock with a strong season and parlay that into a bigger deal next offseason.