Bubble Series: Defensive Line

The Packers typically keep six defensive linemen under Dom Capers but there are seven worthy of roster spots. Who wins the final spot? And what happens when Mike Neal returns after a four-game suspension?

The Green Bay Packers' preseason finale against Kansas City is all about the bubble.

By our estimation, there are six positions where roster spots are at stake: running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker and safety.

"Make a statement," was coach Mike McCarthy's advice to those bubble players. "Define yourself, answer a question that's out there about you. Is it consistency? Is it big-play ability? There's different categories you use when you grade and evaluate players, and obviously some players do things better than others. If you can show improvement and show growth and more value, that's what you look for in these game environments."

Defensive line

The situation: B.J. Raji and Jerel Worthy are locks. Ryan Pickett is a leader and rugged run-stopper who demands double-team attention. C.J. Wilson has been a starter at end in the base defense since the first day of OTAs. Had the Packers been disappointed in fourth-round pick Mike Daniels, they probably would have held onto Jarius Wynn or Anthony Hargrove.

So, there are five players.

Who's No. 6? Phillip Merling, a bust as the 32nd pick of the 2008 draft by Miami, has had a solid camp. But he's been outplayed by Daniel Muir, who is back in Green Bay after starting 26 games for Indianapolis over the previous three seasons. Muir has one-half sack in 43 games over five seasons but has been a surprisingly good pass rusher, especially in the one-on-ones. He could figure prominently in the nickel package, especially on "50/50 downs" such as first-and-10. Plus, he's been paired with Worthy as deep blockers on the No. 1 kickoff return.

"I'd be lying to say I don't think I've given it all I've got," Muir said. "But I don't like to think ‘good spot.' When those thoughts come into my mind, I shun them away quickly, because I don't ever want to get comfortable – never, ever get comfortable. I had one immediate goal – to come in and perform extremely well during camp – and I'll let the coaches and the personnel guys and the media, ya'll be the judge of that. I'd be lying if I said I didn't make plays and didn't impress some people, but I don't like to think about that."

The prediction: To say Merling has had a career rebirth this summer would be an overstatement, but he has played well enough to earn a roster spot. However, seven defensive linemen just seems like too many for a team that uses only two for most snaps. It's hard to say if Merling could fetch anything in a trade, considering the rest of the league could have had him for free for a full month, but it'd be worth a try. Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick last year who spent the season on injured reserve with a concussion, has played well enough to warrant a spot on the practice squad.

Of course, the million-dollar question is what happens when Mike Neal returns from a four-game suspension. Presumably, he'd challenge Daniels, though the rookie's play in the first four weeks might change that line of thinking — or even spell the end for Neal, the 2010 second-round pick who's been a disappointment. When he returns from the suspension, he'll have missed 27 of a possible 36 regular-season games.


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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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