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How will Raji's role change? "That's a good question"

May 10, 2014
 
B.J. Raji has plenty to prove after flopping in a contract year and landing back in Green Bay on a prove-it deal with a modest $500,000 signing bonus.
B.J. Raji has plenty to prove after flopping in a contract year and landing back in Green Bay on a prove-it deal with a modest $500,000 signing bonus. / Getty Images

Mike Trgovac wasn't about to divulge any trade secrets near the end of the Day 2 of the NFL draft on Friday night.

Other than addressing the selection of Southern Miss defensive lineman Khyri Thornton in the third round, the Packers defensive line coach wouldn't go far in elaborating how eight-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers and recently re-signed nose tackle B.J. Raji will impact the defense.

Asked about what Peppers has to offer at 34 years old, Trgovac mentioned he's "looked good" and "matured a lot" since coaching him in Carolina in the mid-2000s.

As for Raji, there's plenty to prove after flopping in a contract year and landing back in Green Bay on a prove-it deal with a modest $500,000 signing bonus.

Raji's signature came with a handshake agreement he'd be allowed to move back to nose tackle where he had his most productive during a 6.5-sack season in 2010.

However, what will his role entail outside of moving back over center from defensive end?

"I don't know. We'll see," Trgovac said. "That's a good question."

Raji recorded a career-low 17 tackles in 16 games last season and re-signed with Green Bay for one-year, $4 million deal when he was met by a lukewarm market.

One thing is for sure, though. It is a new era for the Packers' defensive line. They're getting younger and more flexible at the position. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Thornton was the fifth defensive lineman Green Bay has selected over its last 2 drafts.

There's still an outside chance Johnny Jolly could come back later this summer if he's cleared from neck fusion surgery, but the Packers have nine guys already in the fold with defensive line in their job description.

The run defense's nose dive during the second half of the season made the Packers re-evaluate things. It led to their only two relevant free-agent signings, Peppers and former Minnesota lineman Letroy Guion.

Thornton, a 24-year-old team captain for woeful Southern Miss, seems to fit the defense's new vision of versatile defenders with his ability to play both the three- and five-technique on the line.

The Packers' defense ranked as high as third against the run last season before falling into the bottom 10 when injuries began to take a toll on an aging group. The Packers re-signed Raji, but allowed C.J. Wilson to walk in free agency and appear content to do the same with both Pickett and Jolly.

Thornton admits he didn't expect to get drafted as high as he did being a team captain on a team with a 1-23 record over the past two years didn't inspire much confidence but wasn't complaining about finding an NFL home sooner than anticipated.

"To be honest with you I really didn't have high expectations of going high in the draft," Thornton said. "I told my agent, don't tell me anything. Anything you hear, keep it to yourself."

The same goes for the Packers regarding Raji, Peppers and how the rest of the pieces will fit together for a revamped defensive unit.

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Get Green Bay Packers updates as they happen from our reporting team: (from left) Mike Vandermause, Wes Hodkiewicz and Pete Dougherty.

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