Mike Pennel thought the critiquing of his NFL rookie season would be over once the Green Bay Packers' exit interviews wrapped up in January.
Then, the 6-foot-4, 332-pound nose tackle returned home to Colorado and discovered his mother, Terri, had jotted down a few notes of her own.
"She recorded all the games," Pennel said. "She's a worse critic than my coach. We watched through all the games and she said I have a lot of untapped potential that she hasn't seen and she's been to every game.
"I'm like, 'Well, let me just try to work on that a little bit and play a little harder.'"
Pennel was one of two undrafted rookies in 2014 to make the Packers' 53-man roster coming out of training camp in 2014. B.J. Raji's season-ending biceps injury pushed Pennel into the lineup early in the season. All of his eight tackles came between Week 4-7.
He trained back home this offseason with the goal of being more disruptive in his second NFL season. He focused on his cardio and worked with a boxing coach. He still weighs about the same, but returned to Green Bay feeling faster and leaner.
Pennel wants to shed about 4 or 5 more pounds before the start of the regular season, but is off to a strong start to his sophomore campaign. He had three tackles, including one for a loss and another for no gain in Thursday night's 22-11 win over the New England Patriots.
"I dropped a little bit of weight. I lost a lot of fat," Pennel said. "Now I'm in a good place with that so I don't have to worry about jumping in the hot box right before weigh-ins. I'm at a comfortable weight where I can eat healthy, eat good. Just getting leaner and faster is really it."
The Packers could be in huge need of depth on the defensive line early in the 2015 season. Defensive end Datone Jones is suspended for the opener and veteran Letroy Guion is facing a three-game suspension stemming from a February arrest in Starke, Fla.
With Guion (hamstring) and Mike Daniels (ankle) sitting out against the Patriots, Pennel started at right defensive end next to nose tackle B.J. Raji and Josh Boyd in the 3-4 base defense. The Packers primarily used Pennel as a nose tackle last season, but knows he'll need to be versatile.
"Being out there, you have to be an even smarter football player than inside," Pennel said. "You have to know when double-teams are coming and where the flow of the offense is going because fundamentals and footwork are very big there. Right now, it's a learning experience for me. I'm taking it head-on. Book's open."
Another lineman who stepped up against the Patriots was Bruce Gaston, who signed onto the Packers' active roster from Arizona's practice squad in December and never dressed in a game.
Although he wasn't credited with a sack, the 6-foot-2, 315-pound lineman did a lot of heavy lifting on Datone Jones' third-quarter sack of Jimmy Garoppolo with a swat-like move that gave several offensive linemen fits on Thursday night.
"Sometimes honestly it just depends on the person you're playing, how they set versus how fast you think you are," said Gaston, who played 26 snaps. "It's a combination of certain things. … As I go faster, I try to slow it down in my head and see what they give me and work from there."
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac individually told the two linemen to hone their fundamentals and technique when the team dispersed in January. It's only one game, but Pennel and Gaston feel they've forged a good basis to build from.
If Pennel doesn't, he knows the first person he'll from.
"She definitely makes Trgo look nicer," joked Pennel about his mom. "She's rough. She's brutal."
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