Sunday notes: Depth, matchups squeezing d-line

Sep. 21, 2013

CINCINNATI – It was bound to happen eventually.

Outside of quarterback, the Green Bay Packers’ defensive line was the only positional group to bring all of its members from the 2012 roster into this year’s training camp.

A position regarded as a relative weakness last season became a moderate strength this offseason when the Packers drafted a pair of rookies, first-round pick Datone Jones and fifth-rounder Josh Boyd, and returned veteran Johnny Jolly to their roster.

After being reinstated from a three-year NFL ban for codeine-related offenses, the 30-year-old defensive lineman surprised everyone when he not only captured a spot on the 53-man roster earlier this month, but also started the regular-season opener against San Francisco.

However, Jolly’s revival has seemed to work against fourth-year veteran C.J. Wilson, who has been the placeholder at the Packers’ 3-4 base end position in the three years Jolly has been away.

There were plenty of snaps to go around when the Packers went heavy in their Okie package against San Francisco, but Wilson ended up being the odd-man out when they turned to more nickel sub-package looks in last Sunday’s 38-20 win over Washington.

It was the first time since Wilson’s first regular-season game in 2010 that he was a clean scratch.

“I discussed it with him and he understands. That’s just the nature of the game,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “It’s hard decision because both of them are very valuable to us and both of them are very good football players, but B.J. (Raji) and Pick (Ryan Pickett) are going to be your big guys inside. Then you have a C.J. and Johnny that are very similar.

“Anytime you put a guy down, it’s hard. Guys don’t want to go through practice all week and geared up and then get down on game day, but he understands the plan and the situation.”

The Packers were able to keep eight defensive linemen on the roster with Mike Neal’s semi-conversion to playing outside linebacker, but the stats through the first two regular-season games show the Packers’ plight.

Raji and second-year pro Mike Daniels played the most snaps on the defensive line against Washington with 31 reps apiece and rightfully as Daniels was the line's most effective pass rusher last week (two pressures, one tackle for loss).

Pickett saw action on 19 plays, Jolly worked on 23 and Jones saw 20 snaps mostly in the dime sub-package. Neal played 33 snaps lining up both outside in the two-point stance and inside with Jones on the pass rush.

Meanwhile, Wilson watched. Boyd, the 6-foot-2, 310-pounder out of Mississippi State, remains a long-term project and will be down again Sunday. Wilson’s fate likely will be determined again by matchup.

By all accounts, the 6-foot-3, 306-pound run specialist had his finest camp of his four year coming off a 2012 campaign when he set career highs in starts (seven), tackles (37) and sack (2½).

However, the 6-foot-3, 328-pound Jolly gives Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers the 1,000-pound line he likes with his instinctive ability to time batted passes also working in his favor.

Facing a Cincinnati offense featuring two receiving tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert could put the Packers in a heavy nickel scheme again with both Neal and Nick Perry still green in coverage.

If so, the Packers again might have some tough decisions to make.

“We’ve got two really good football players right there,” said Trgovac of Jolly and Wilson. “Mike and Dom and Ted, they all look at the whole big picture of the thing and when you look at the reps that the guys got on the d-line, we knew were going to be in a big nickel game. The reps were split really kind of evenly along the front right there and that’s what we tried to do.”

Standing pat at back
The Packers have either decided Eddie Lacy is healthy enough to help in some capacity against Cincinnati or two healthy running backs is all they’ll need.

The Packers didn’t make any alterations to their roster on Saturday although you’d have to imagine they gave some thought to activating practice-squad running back Michael Hill with Lacy missing all of practice this week with a concussion.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team would make a decision on whether the rookie running back could play after sustaining the concussion on his first career in last Sunday’s 38-20 win over Washington.

If he doesn’t, that would leave James Starks and rookie Johnathan Franklin as the only healthy natural backs on the roster. Starks rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries last week, but has an injury history. Franklin has yet to play an offensive snap in a regular-season game.

Hill, 24, is a rookie out of Missouri Western who signed with the Packers shortly after being released by San Diego at the end of the preseason. He took a pre-draft visit to Green Bay after finishing as Missouri Western’s all-time leading rusher with 4,969 yards and 35 TDs on 828 carries (6.0 avg.).

Hill said he has a firm grasp of the playbook and specializes in pass protection, but he’ll have to wait for another moment for a possible promotion.

Sticky Shields
Packers cornerback Sam Shields was the defensive game-ball recipient after having eight tackles and three pass deflections with two third-down stops in Sunday's win over Washington.

The fourth-year cornerback will be in for another tough task on Sunday against Bengals' top receiver A.J. Green, who has 15 catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games of the season.

Miller cut
The Kansas City Chiefs released former Packers defensive tackle Jordan Miller from their practice squad on Saturday. A midseason practice-squad pickup, Miller finished the 2012 season on the active roster after Jerel Worthy suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the regular-season finale.

Miller signed with the Chiefs shortly after being cut by the Packers at the end of camp. Kansas City first-year general manager John Dorsey previously served two decades in Green Bay’s front office before accepting the job this offseason.

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