Torn biceps puts Raji's future with Packers in doubt

Weston Hodkiewicz
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B.J. Raji cools off with a wet towel during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

B.J. Raji's season is over and his future with the Green Bay Packers in doubt.

Further testing performed on the sixth-year defensive lineman's arm Saturday revealed Raji tore his right biceps in Friday night's 31-21 preseason win over Oakland. The Packers haven't commented publicly, but a league source told Press-Gazette Media he'll miss the 2014 season.

Coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign, Raji returned to Green Bay on a one-year deal worth $4 million with a $500,000 signing bonus with the understanding he'd switch back to nose tackle in the Packers' 3-4 defense.

The Packers and Raji hoped a move from end to nose — where Raji enjoyed his most productive season in 2010 — would help him turn his career around after seeing his pass-rushing role diminished the past two seasons.

Raji, 28, bottomed out last season when he produced a career-low 17 tackles in 16 games and went a second consecutive season without a sack. To make matters worse, he reportedly turned down a contract extension with the Packers early in the season that would have paid him $8 million per year.

Raji showed signs of rejuvenation in this year's camp. He appeared more motivated and explosive rushing over the center, but his expiring contract leaves his future with the Packers in question.

B.J. Raji.

He's the fourth player the Packers have lost to a season-ending injury, but the first starter. Still, history has shown the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson tend to move on quickly.

They parted ways with linebackers Desmond Bishop and Nick Barnett, defensive lineman Aaron Kampman, safety Atari Bigby, cornerback Al Harris and running backs Ryan Grant and Ahman Green soon after they suffered significant injuries.

Grant and Green both returned later in their careers, but no longer were the players they once were. That could be one reason the Packers have yet to pick up the phone for veterans Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, two-thirds of their starting base defense in 2013, who are both free agents.

Instead, it seems they'll press forward with second-year defensive lineman Josh Boyd (6-3, 310), third-round pick Khyri Thornton (6-3, 304) and undrafted rookie Mike Pennel (6-4, 332) to fill Raji's void. Letroy Guion (6-4, 315), who was signed in March to back up Raji, could be an option once he returns from a hamstring injury that has held him out of camp.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy painted a positive picture of Raji's situation during his postgame news conference Friday night, saying Raji was "pretty confident" about his prognosis after his initial exam.

One reason could be because the pain associated with a torn biceps usually dissipates soon after the tendon and nerve fibers detach from the radial tubercle, the connecting point of the biceps to the elbow.

Assuming it's a complete tear, Raji likely will undergo surgery in the next two weeks to reattach the muscle in an effort to avoid scarring and regain full range of motion. He faces a 3-to-6-month recovery, depending on the severity.

B.J. Raji had a career-low 17 tackles without a sack in 16 games in 2013.

Raji might have been able to play through the injury if it would have been only a partial tear. There's discomfort because many of the pain fibers still are active, but it typically doesn't require surgery.

San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith pushed off surgery until after Super Bowl XLVII despite a completely torn left biceps, while Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs gutted out a partially torn biceps to stay on the field during the Ravens' title run.

Some nonathletes who tear biceps opt against surgery, which results in a cosmetic deformity of the muscle and about a 30 to 40 percent decrease in the strength of the arm.

"If it's completely torn, basically the biceps tendon will shrivel and pull up into the biceps area of the arm and you get like a popeye muscle," said Dr. Luga Podesta, sports medicine specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

"At that position, he has to be able to grip and shed guys and it becomes difficult unless he just straight bull-rushes. But even then, firing his elbow out into extension — partial tears still remain painful where complete tears as soon as you disrupt that nerve supply, they're fine. You have a deformity and a little bit of weakness but typically the pain goes away fairly quickly."

49ers defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey recently underwent surgery for a torn biceps. It was thought to be a season-ending injury, but coach Jim Harbaugh is now holding out hope he could play this season. The Packers have the option of designating Raji to return later this season from injured reserve, but early indications are the severity of the injury won't make him a candidate.

Raji's departure leaves the defensive line without their three starting linemen in the base defense from a year ago. The Packers will be roughly 100 pounds lighter assuming Boyd joins Datone Jones and Mike Daniels in the base defense, but they'll also be considerably younger.

Despite his lack of recent success, Packers fans will remember B.J. Raji for the interception he returned for a touchdown during the NFC Championship game against the Bears on Jan. 23, 2011.

Like the rest of the NFL, the Packers also are slowly deviating from the 3-4 as their base defense. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Packers deployed the alignment on only 252 of 1,015 snaps (24.8 percent) last season.

Raji also works in nickel on obvious running downs, but Jones and Daniels are the primary rushers in the popular subpackage.

"We're obviously not as big as we've been in the past," defensive line Mike Trgovac said last week. "So, we'll have to hit and get-off as opposed to some of those guys were able to hit and hold on a little bit longer like Johnny and Pickett. We'll have enough size with Josh and hopefully when we get Letroy back."

— Pete Dougherty contributed.

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