With Raji out, youngsters must step up at nose tackle
B.J. Raji walked around the practice field Sunday afternoon, flipping a football to himself with his left hand while his right arm rest in a sling.
He was attentive, engaged. "Coach Raji," he called himself to a few teammates. The sixth-year nose tackle may lose this season to a right biceps tear that will require surgery, but he'll be around to lend an ear and share advice.
It's a good thing, too. Behind Raji, there's a lot of raw youth on the Green Bay Packers depth chart.
"He's been in this league a long time," second-year defensive lineman Josh Boyd said. "He's always been a guy who's helped me. So for him to stay here and continue to help us will be a great help.
"I know that he's a guy who's going to be there for me, so I don't worry about that."
Raji's injury, suffered Friday night against the Oakland Raiders, leaves a 340-pound void in the middle of Green Bay's defensive line.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy called the injury "significant" Sunday, stating the obvious. Raji will require surgery. His season is finished. McCarthy said Raji won't be placed on the temporary injured reserve list, closing any possibility of a return later this fall.
It's a tough blow to the Packers' defense front. He hasn't recorded a sack since Nov. 24, 2011, but McCarthy said Raji turned a corner this offseason when he returned to his natural nose tackle position.
"He was in the best shape and having the best camp of his career," McCarthy said.
The Packers are now without the top two nose tackles on their depth chart, with free agent signee Letroy Guion stuck on the non-football injury list and out of practice during camp because of a pulled hamstring.
When Guion returns, he'll likely assume much of Raji's responsibilities. Boyd – and likely undrafted rookie Mike Pennel – will also have a larger load along the defensive line.
"I don't know about tough to replace him," Guion said. "I'm a good player myself. I know how to play defense, I know how to play D-line really good. So I'm going to get back out there and do my job."
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