18 Days ’Til Camp: Remodeled Defensive Line

Every day until the start of camp on July 26, we’ll provide one juicy nugget to whet your appetite for the return of football. We’d give you more but the CBA forbids two-a-days. Sorry. Who will make plays vs. the run after the unit's top three tacklers on a per-snap basis were not retained?

At the Scouting Combine, coach Mike McCarthy was asked if he’d be going with a smaller defensive line.

“I’ve never been part of a conversation that you want your d-linemen to be smaller. That's not accurate," McCarthy said. “If anything, you always want to get bigger, stronger and faster and things like that. We’re definitely not going to be smaller.”

The Packers most certainly have gotten smaller.

Gone are 340-pound Ryan Pickett and 325-pound Johnny Jolly. Added to the mix were 315-pound free agent Letroy Guion an 304-pound rookie Khyri Thornton.

While the Packers haven’t scrapped the 3-4, the slimmer-and-trimmer defensive line might signal a change in how the defense will attack opposing offenses. While 337-pound B.J. Raji will anchor the defense as the nose tackle, is it realistic to expect guys like Datone Jones, Guion and Thornton to use their limited bulk to command double-team blocks to free up the linebackers? Or, will the defensive line be allowed to attack more to take advantage of increased athleticism?

However it’s done, the Packers are going to be relying on new faces to set the tone against the run.

That’s because, the top three defensive linemen in terms of snaps per tackle are no longer with the team.

Based on the coaches’ tackle counts and ProFootballFocus.com’s snap counts, Jolly led the unit last season with 38 tackles in 294 snaps, good for a rate of 7.74 snaps per tackle. C.J. Wilson was next, with his 11 tackles in 108 snaps giving him a rate of 9.82 snaps per tackle. Pickett, who dominated this department, had 47 tackles in 499 snaps, a rate of 10.62 snaps per tackle.

Jolly, whose season ended with a neck injury, and Pickett, who will turn 35 in October, remain free agents. Wilson signed with the Raiders.

The leading returning defensive line is, interestingly, Jones. The team’s first-round pick last season played almost exclusively as one of the nickel and dime interior pass rushers. He barely played in the base defense and barely played down the stretch at all. He had 19 tackles in 203 snaps, good for 10.68 snaps per tackle.

The others: Jerel Worthy — 12 snaps, one tackle, 12.00 snaps per tackle; Josh Boyd — 103 snaps, eight tackles, 12.88 snaps per tackle; Mike Daniels — 517 snaps, 37 tackles, 13.97 snaps per tackle; and Raji, 618 snaps, 36 tackles, 17.17 snaps per tackle.

Here are the career tackle rates for last year’s defensive line.

PICKETT: 2013: 47 tackles, 499 plays. 10.62 plays/tackle. 2012: 75 tackles, 582 plays. 7.76 plays/tackle. 2011: 54 tackles, 466 plays. 8.63 plays/tackle. 2010: 53 tackles, 377 plays. 7.11 plays/tackle. 2009: 47 tackles, 347 plays. 7.38 plays/tackle. Total: 276 tackles, 2,271 plays. 8.23 plays/tackle.

WILSON: 2013: 11 tackles, 108 snaps. 9.82 plays/tackle. 2012: 37 tackles, 280 plays. 7.57 plays/tackle. 2011: 35 tackles, 384 plays. 10.97 plays/tackle. 2010: 21 tackles, 232 plays. 11.05 plays/tackle. Total: 104 tackles, 1,004 plays. 9.65 plays/tackle.

JOLLY: 2013: 38 tackles, 294 plays; 7.74 plays/tackle. 2009: 75 tackles, 807 plays. 10.76 plays/tackle. Total: 113 tackles, 1,101 plays. 9.74 plays/tackle.

JONES: 2013: 19 tackles, 203 plays; 10.68 plays/tackle. Total: 19 tackles, 203 plays; 10.68 plays/tackle.

BOYD: 2013: 8 tackles, 103 plays; 12.88 plays/tackle. Total: 8 tackles, 103 plays; 12.88 plays/tackle.

DANIELS: 2013: 37 tackles, 517 plays; 13.97 plays/tackle. 2012: 19 tackles, 231 plays. 12.16 plays/tackle. Total: 56 tackles, 748 plays. 13.36 plays/tackle.

RAJI: 2013: 36 tackles, 618 plays; 17.17 plays/tackle. 2012: 46 tackles, 658 plays. 14.30 plays/tackle. 2011: 43 tackles, 885 plays. 20.58 plays/tackle. 2010: 66 tackles, 884 plays. 13.39 plays/tackle. 2009: 36 tackles, 355 plays. 9.86 plays/tackle. Total: 227 tackles, 3,400 plays. 14.98 plays/tackle.

WORTHY: 2013: 1 tackle, 12 plays; 12.0 plays/tackle. 2012: 23 tackles, 467 plays. 20.30 plays/tackle. Total: 24 tackles, 479 plays. 19.96 plays/tackle.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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