New Faces Provide Options on Defensive Line

Even without suspended Anthony Hargrove and Mike Neal, the Packers are deep and versatile up front. On paper, anyway, they can stop the run and rush the passer. Here's how that group shapes up, after conversations with Dom Capers and Mike Trgovac.

Assuming NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is unmoved by Anthony Hargrove's appeal, the Green Bay Packers will be without the playmaking defensive lineman for the first eight games of this season.

Coupled with a four-game suspension for Mike Neal, the Packers' defensive line will be shorthanded into November.

Nonetheless, that unit will be deeper than it was last year, when its impotent performance handcuffed defensive coordinator Dom Capers throughout the season.

The returning group is led by B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, and includes Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson. The unit, however, received a strength-by-numbers upgrade. The Packers drafted Jerel Worthy in the second round and Mike Daniels in the fourth. They signed Hargrove as an unrestricted free agent and Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling as street free agents. Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick last year who spent the season on injured reserve with a concussion, and Johnny Jones, who spent most of last year on the practice squad, will vie for a roster spot as well.

Here's how much the Packers like their depth: Even with rosters expanded to 90 players instead of the usual 80, general manager Ted Thompson didn't add a single undrafted free agent to the group.

"I really like the competition we're going to have heading into training camp," Capers said last week. "We've got more options, I think. We've got a different style of guys. We've got the big, physical guys to play the run. I think we've got the guys who can play either (run) or (pass), guys that can transition from playing on first and second down to being able to pressure the quarterback better. It'll be an interesting training camp because we're going to have good competition and we've just got to make sure we get a good look at these guys in various situations. But I think there are more possibilities."

Worthy, Daniels and Hargrove were added to bolster the unit's horrendous pass rush, especially in the nickel defense, which the Packers used about 70 percent of the time last season. Last year, Raji (three) and Wynn (three) combined for all six sacks from the defensive line. Contrast that to 2010, when Cullen Jenkins (seven) and Raji (6.5) combined for 13.5 of the defensive line's 19 sacks.

"We hope so. That's what we drafted them for," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said when asked if this year's group should be "more impactful."

Muir, Merling and Guy will be be competing for a role in the Packers' base defense when run-stopping ability is a requirement. Merling (6-5, 315) and Guy (6-4, 304) probably will be competing with each other for a roster spot at defensive end. Muir (6-2, 322) would provide depth at nose tackle, where Raji has been overworked the last two seasons. If Muir makes the team, he could take some of the load off of Raji, who wasn't nearly impactful enough vs. the run or pass — his Pro Bowl recognition notwithstanding.

"B.J. probably played more than we'd hoped the last couple years," Capers said, "but that was more out of necessity. I just think if you can have a group of guys to where you can keep guys fresh heading into that stretch towards the end of the season, and big guys like that, if you're playing them every play, they're not going to be as effective for a higher percentage of those plays."

What's key — even without Neal and Hargrove — is the Packers have put together a group that can match up against running teams as well as passing teams. Raji, Worthy, Neal can play on all three downs. Pickett, Muir, Guy and Merling are pure run-stoppers. Hargrove and Daniels are pure pass-rushers. Wilson's better against the run but can rush the passer; Wynn's better against the pass but can stop the run.

"It's a hard-working group," Trgovac said. "I think what Ted's done is added a nice mix of competition in there. We'll give everyone a chance to go in and compete and find out who the best players are."

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

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