Breaking Down the Defensive Line

We take a look at the 12 defensive linemen who will be vying for roster spots when camp begins. We categorize them as three-down players, run stoppers and pass rushers, and including quotes from our offseason interviews.

In a companion piece to our New Faces story, here is a rundown of the Packers' 12-man defensive line.

The Packers had six on last year's final roster: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Howard Green, Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal. Of this year's 12, Anthony Hargrove and Mike Neal will start the season serving eight- and four-game suspensions, respectively, and will not count against the 53-man roster.

THE THREE-DOWN PLAYERS

— B.J. Raji: (6-2, 337) Raji was one of the league's most underrated players in 2010 and one of its most overrated players in being selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011. Raji, worn down by too much playing time and a never-ending supply of double-team blocks, would benefit greatly from a Cullen Jenkins-like sidekick.

"B.J., he needs to take that next step and I think he will," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said.

Jerel Worthy (6-2, 308): There are a lot of expectations on Worthy, the second-round pick. With superb quickness for his size, he's expected to make an instant impact rushing the passer — he had 12 sacks in his three seasons at Michigan State — with the goal of making him a three-down player and a starter. In other words, the hope is he's that Jenkins-like sidekick that Raji needs.

"You draft a guy that high, you want him to be a complete player. That's our goal," Trgovac said.

— Mike Neal (6-3, 294): Neal, a second-round pick in 2010, has been a disaster, with injuries derailing him during his first two seasons and now the suspension. A knee injury sustained in training camp last year limited him to seven games, no sacks and two quarterback hits, by the team's count.

"With my knee, there's always going to be a little pain but compared to last year, there's nothing," he said. "Last year, I was struggling to get through practices toward the end of the week. Now, I feel great. My knee doesn't hurt as bad as it did."

NICKEL DEFENSE

— Anthony Hargrove (6-3, 282): With his eight-game suspension, there's been speculation Hargrove won't even make the team. But championships are won in December and January, not September and October. Among defensive tackles last season, Hargrove ranked ninth in the league in ProFootballFocus.com's "pass rush productivity" rankings, with 19 total pressures in just pass-rushing 216 snaps. Raji, by contrast, had 20 total pressures in 493 pass-rushing snaps.

— Jarius Wynn (6-3, 285): Wynn had three sacks in the first three games but no sacks and just two quarterback hits in the final 13 games, according to the team's data. This is a make-or-break year for the fourth-year pro, though the suspensions increase the odds that he'll stick around through at least the end of September.

Mike Daniels (6-0, 291): Daniels missed the entire offseason with a torn labrum sustained before Iowa's bowl game. Without Hargrove and Neal, Daniels could provide a real shot in the arm if his pass-rushing output from Iowa (nine sacks as a senior) translates to the NFL. If not, he could be the odd man out when Neal and/or Hargrove return.

BASE DEFENSE

— Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340): Coach Mike McCarthy lauded Pickett for having his finest season last year. Among 3-4 defensive ends, Pickett ranked a respectable 13th with a run-stop percentage of 6.5 percent, according to ProFootballFocus.com (defined as the offense being unable to obtain 40 percent of required yardage on first down, 60 percent of required yardage on second down or all of the required yardage on third or fourth down). The 32-year-old Pickett spent most of the offseason at defensive end. Last year, he and Raji flip-flopped between end and nose tackle.

— C.J. Wilson (6-3, 290): Wilson had 27 sacks at East Carolina but that part of his game hasn't translated to the NFL. In two seasons, he has just one sack — including zero in 2011, when he had only one quarterback hit. He is, however, a quality run defender. He'll battle Worthy to be the starting end opposite Pickett in the base defense.

Phillip Merling (6-5, 315): Merling was the No. 32 overall selection of the 2008 draft by Miami but bombed, with just five starts in four seasons. As a senior at Clemson, Merling had seven sacks. In the NFL, he has 3.5 sacks. He made almost no impact over his final two seasons, including 2010, when he tore an Achilles. He's got the size and athletic ability, however, to get his career back on track.

"The scheme suits me," he said. "It's a little bit more athletic than just two-gapping, knock-you-back all the time. That plays into what I like doing."

— Daniel Muir: (6-2, 322): Muir, who signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2007, started 26 games for the Colts over the last three seasons. He'd take some of the early-down workload off of Raji if the Packers can spare a roster spot. That's a big "if" considering Muir's specialized role on a defense that spent less than 20 percent of last season in its base 3-4 grouping.

Lawrence Guy (6-4, 304): Guy, a seventh-round pick in 2011 as a junior entry out of Arizona State, spent last year on injured reserve with a concussion. "Lawrence will have a good opportunity to make this team," Trgovac said.

— Johnny Jones (6-4, 310): Jones, who spent most of last season on the practice squad after being released as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall by the Dolphins, missed the entire offseason with an unspecified injury.

HOW IT SHAKES OUT

Raji, Worthy and Pickett are the no-brainers. From there, do the Packers keep an additional two or three? If they keep two, it's Wynn vs. Daniels as an inside rusher and Wilson, Merling, Muir and Guy vying for a run-stopping role. If Worthy shows he can be a three-down player, the Packers might take their chances and keep just five defensive linemen until Neal returns. Under this scenario, we give the edge to Wynn over Daniels, because Daniels hasn't gotten on the field, and Wilson over the others, because he's proven he can do the grunt work.


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


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.


Packer Report Top Stories