Naturally, with the way this season has gone, the defensive line has been slammed by injuries.
Starting defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, as is the line's No. 1 backup, rookie Mike Neal (shoulder). Throw in that starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins, already playing with a broken left hand, is hobbled after a Redskins offensive lineman fell knee-first onto his hamstring last week, and the Packers' defensive line is one banged up bunch.
For most weeks, the Packers probably could get by with just starting nose tackle B.J. Raji, Jenkins and seldom-used backups C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn. The Packers have played nickel on about three-quarters of their defensive snaps this year, meaning only two defensive linemen have been on the field. With Miami running the ball about 44 percent of the time and with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combining to wear down defenses, the Packers probably would like to play more of their base defense, which has three defensive linemen on the field.
"This is really what we're built for if we've got all our guys," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac told Packer Report on Friday. "Like I told them all on Wednesday, before you knew a whole lot (about the injuries), this is what we're built for. We're built for a power running team. That's OK. The guys that we have as backups are also built for this. Hopefully, everybody will play. If they don't, the next guy's got to step in."
Considering the Packers' typically cautious approach to injured players, Pickett and Neal seem like long shots. That would put the onus on Wilson, a rookie seventh-round pick, and Wynn, a sixth-round pick last year who didn't make the final roster but was brought back after Justin Harrell went down in Week 1. Neither have played much this season, with both having one tackle apiece. Wilson figures to get the start because he's the bigger, more physical player to match up against Miami's mountainous right tackle, Vernon Carey.
"We're going to find out (if Wilson and Wynn are ready)," Trgovac said. "I hope so. You always talk to these guys about, ‘You're one play away from playing.' If it happens, they've got to be ready to go. It's happened in this league. When guys get hurt, the next guy's got to step up. A lot of people have lost their jobs because the backup guys stepped up and did such a good job."
After last week's game, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said the Packers' defensive line is the best in the NFL. Jenkins and Raji are off to tremendous starts. Raji has 2.5 sacks after collecting just one as a rookie, and has been a consistent penetrator despite frequent double-team blocks and has been much more sound in playing his responsibilities. Jenkins had a sack in each of the first four games and was dominant against Washington, even though he couldn't haul down Donovan McNabb because of the cast on his hand.
"McNabb, he's given me trouble with two good hands," Jenkins said. "It's extra tough trying to get him with a club on."
Trgovac has limited Jenkins' snaps because of the hand, trying to keep him out of likely running downs. As Trgovac explained by physically demonstrating some techniques on this reporter's right shoulder, playing run defense requires a lot of grabbing and pulling of the offensive linemen.
"When you try to get off the guy, you get your hands on the guy but you can't grab anything," he said during his demonstration. "The first thing you tell a guy is to get your hands on him. It's easier to control a guy that way. With the club (cast), your hand slides off of him. So, it's a little more difficult to be pure, fundamentally sound if you have that club."
However, because of the numbers, Trgovac might not have the luxury of saving Jenkins for passing situations. That also means a lot of snaps for Raji and the most extensive playing time of the season for Wynn and Wilson.
"I definitely like a game like this," Raji said. "Last week was a little different. They're a more finesse running game, more sideline and flat. This is kind of what we're built for with our size and strength and quickness. With their guys trying to come out at us and get movement on us up front, I feel we excel at that."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.