The Green Bay Packers spent the last two NFL drafts stockpiling their roster with young defensive linemen.
So far, 2012 fourth-round pick Mike Daniels is what they have to show for it.
The defense still has hope for rookie first-rounder Datone Jones and 2012 second-round pick Jerel Worthy, but it’ll be an important offseason for both players for very different reasons.
Jones, 23, finished with 10 tackles and 3½ sacks in his rookie season while Worthy played in two games after returning midseason from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the 2012 regular-season finale in Minnesota.
However, Worthy wasn’t a world-burner before that, either. He had 14 tackles and 2½ sacks in 14 games despite playing nearly 200 more defensive snaps than Jones did this year.
“The encouraging thing is you’re talking about a bunch of young guys and guys that need every OTA, they need all the training camp practices and all of those kind of things because young guys, they can make great strides,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
“A big part of that is being able to stay healthy, stay on the field. Our OTAs, our training camp’s going to be extremely important for a lot of these young guys to get themselves ready to go at a high level so we can get off to a good start.”
Jones looked like an Adonis at the start of training camp and expectations were huge for the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Jones to provide the every-down lineman the defense needed to anchor its pass rush.
Instead, he developed an ankle injury in camp and settled into a dime sub-package rusher who played in all 16 games. Over the last month, however, he began losing playing time to fifth-round rookie Josh Boyd.
Jones said he plans to bulk up this offseason, but defensive line coach Mike Trgovac doesn’t believe that’s paramount at this point.
“I think he just needs to progress like he did from the middle of the year on,” Trgovac said. “I think his weight is fine. I don’t think that’s an issue. We have plenty of big, big guys. We’ll have to evaluate that. I’m not exactly sure where that is right now, but we’ll have to evaluate that. I don’t think that’s the issue.”
Daniels has separated himself from the rest of the 2012 draft class and is playing at a level Trgovac feels could translate into him becoming a three-down lineman moving forward.
There could be plenty of room, too. The Packers' entire starting line of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are unrestricted free agents. Rotational run-stopper C.J. Wilson is also set to hit the market.
Like Worthy, outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot) and cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) have both missed extended periods of time while safety Jerron McMillian and linebacker Terrell Manning have already been let go.
Worthy spent the first 11 weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list. He returned against Minnesota on Nov. 24, but played only 11 snaps the rest of the regular season.
“This will be a huge offseason for him this year to get really what he missed from that first-to-second year,” Trgovac said. “You’re in the meetings and doing all that. He’s a great note-taker, he studies the game but there’s nothing like being out on the field. The little bit of what he had was competing with guys who were practicing for all of training camp.”