Packers Roster Countdown: Part 5

Slots 61 through 65 are devoted to the defense and hint to the terrific roster battles that await. In this installment, three defensive linemen and two safeties will be vying for spots on the 53-man roster.

As we've done in past years, we're counting down the Green Bay Packers' roster, from No. 90 ("Longest of Long Shots", Curenski Gilleylen) to No. 1 (Aaron Rodgers).

These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players were ranked on their importance to the team. Skill, a player's position, the depth of his position group, the odds he contributes, salary and draft history all play a part in how a player is ranked. More than the ranking itself, hopefully you will learn a little something about each of the 90 players in the process.

No. 61: New lease on football life

In the Packers' extreme defensive line makeover, there is no more intriguing a prospect than Phillip Merling.

After a productive career and big senior year at Clemson, Merling was expected to be a first-round draft pick in 2008 and wound up going No. 32 overall — the first pick of the second round — to Miami. After four disappointing seasons that included just 3.5 sacks, a torn Achilles, skipped voluntary workouts and a domestic violence allegation (no charges were filed), the Dolphins cut their losses by releasing him shortly after the draft.

The Packers will keep five or six defensive linemen, with Ryan Pickett and one other player having the primary job description of stopping the run. That likely puts Merling (6-5, 315) in competition with C.J. Wilson and the next two guys on this list for a roster spot.

"He's a big guy that has length to him," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Kind of your classic 3-4 ends are those taller guys, and he was very well thought of when he came out. He's played in a different scheme, but a couple of years ago, (Miami) played some 3-4. I think with his size and his length that he's got a number of things you look for in a 3-4 end. We'll just have to see how fast he picks up what we're doing and where he'll fit in to things."

Merling, who said he was "humbled" by how his career in Miami ended, said the Packers' scheme fits his skills.

"It's a little bit more athletic (than it was at Miami) and the coach (Mike Trgovac) preaches to be a little bit more athletic and fast and I love that."

No. 62: What a Guy

Lawrence Guy was a seventh-round pick last year who spent the season on injured reserve because of a concussion sustained early in camp. He's back, further fortifying a defensive line that was bolstered by five new faces.

Guy (6-4, 304), a junior entry in 2011 who turned 22 in March, was seen as a project because of his lack of counter moves. A year's worth of reps on the practice squad would have done wonders, but Guy insists he's a better player today because of his time in the weight room and the playbook.

"I got a whole year to learn the playbook. That's always a plus," he said. "I've been training for a whole year just to play this game."

No. 63: The return of Muir

In 2007, Daniel Muir made the Packers' roster and played in three games as an undrafted rookie out of Kent State. Muir didn't make the team in 2008 but started 26 games for the Colts in 2009 and 2010 and two games last year before being released.

"I had very good stats, probably my best month of football since I've been in the NFL," Muir told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "To get released, it hurt. I didn't understand it. They didn't tell me anything. The next week one of my good friends (on the Colts) said the reason they cut me was because my stance was too wide. That's what he was told. It was tough at first, but I'm thankful to have another opportunity."

Muir's back, one of the new faces to revive a position group that made practically no impact last season.

"We were laughing the other day with A.J. (Hawk) about Danny Muir coming back, and realizing there's probably only four or five guys who actually knew who Danny Muir was before he came back here," Aaron Rodgers joked.

While Merling and Guy are ends, Muir plays nose tackle in the base scheme. His role would be taking some of the workload off of B.J. Raji on running downs. Question is, do the Packers play their base scheme enough (about 20 percent last season) to warrant keeping a backup nose tackle?

No. 64 (tie): Shot at safety

Last year, the Packers kept four safeties on the 53-man roster, though by season's end, only three remained. So, potentially, neither of these players will make the team, though absolutely nothing is set in stone beyond Morgan Burnett.

— Will the third time be the charm for Anthony Levine? An undrafted free agent out of Tennessee State in 2010 — he played alongside Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — Levine spent all of 2010 and most of 2011 on the practice squad. Levine sat out the offseason program with an unspecified injury, missing out on a golden opportunity with injuries to returning starters Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett. While sidelined, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian made solid impressions to move ahead of Levine in the wide-open safety derby.

— Another player taking advantage of Levine's absence was Micah Pellerin, who was claimed on waivers after being released by the Colts. In three seasons as a cornerback for Hampton, Pellerin finished fifth in FCS history with 1.30 passes defensed per game. While he's playing safety for Green Bay, his cover skills provide flexibility for Capers. For instance, Capers used McMillian as a cornerback in their dime package during the minicamp. Pellerin wasn't used in that role but his history suggests he'll get his shot.

"Our safeties are interchangeable," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "We ask them to cover just as much as tackle and show up in the box just because of the schemes that we run. I like his coverage ability."


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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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