Jolly Was 'Real Good' — Can He Be Again?

Plenty has happened during the last three-and-a-half years, as Johnny Jolly has gone from a young man to the second-oldest player on the team. Nonetheless, Jolly could be an asset if he returns to his run-stopping, pass-deflecting form.

What Johnny Jolly is trying to accomplish might be unprecedented in the NFL's modern era.

"In the olden days, they went to war and came back," Green Bay Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "Me, personally, I haven't (had a player returning from such a lengthy absence), so this will be a first for me."

It's been almost three-and-a-half years since Jolly suited up for the Packers.

That's a long time, but Trgovac has a good memory.

"Johnny was a real good player," Trgovac told Packer Report on Wednesday, the final day of the two-day minicamp. "For what we do, where we try to keep people off linebackers, we try to stay square, we don't shoot and hit gaps and run up the field, Johnny was very good at that."

Whether Jolly can be a "real good" player again won't be determined until training camp and the preseason. Back in 2009, he was 26 years old and coming off back-to-back seasons of starting the full 16-game schedule.

Now, he's 30; only Ryan Pickett is older on the roster. He's been suspended for the past three seasons. He spent about three-quarters of a year in prison.

In 2009, he was a staple of the defense as one of the young, up-and-coming defensive linemen.

In 2013, he's toward the bottom of the depth chart. He's going to have to outplay two young players, C.J. Wilson (fourth year) and Josh Boyd (rookie), to make an unlikely run at a roster spot.

No wonder coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday, "The biggest thing for Johnny Jolly is just to be one of the 90 (players on the roster)."

Jolly's goals are more short term, as well.

"My main thing right now is just coming out here every day and getting what I need to do down so I can be focused and more consistent in what I'm doing," he said. "Just being a part of the team and whatever I need to do, that's my main focus. Once everything falls, we can go from there. but right now, I'm just doing whatever I can to help the team."

If Jolly can return to form, he could be an asset. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' preference is playing nickel, meaning there typically are only two defensive linemen on the field, regardless of the down-and-distance situation. Jolly was big and tough enough to hold up in the run game and had a knack for batting down balls in the passing game, making him a perfect fit. In 2009, when Jolly led the Packers' defensive linemen in snaps and tackles, he tallied 11 batted passes. That was the most by a Packers defensive lineman since the team began recording that statistic in 1980, and it was four more than the second-best defensive lineman in the NFL.

"I'll tell you what, that's a feel type thing," Trgovac said. "Some guys are better at that than others. You can coach it and help guys get better at it but some of those guys are better at it. Johnny's got a lot of natural football to him. We'll see if he still has it or not."

In flashes, Jolly showed he "still has it" during the two-day minicamp. But striking a blocking sled or a teammate holding a dummy isn't the same as taking on a double-team block that allows the linebacker to come free for the tackle on a third-and-1 play in the regular season.

"The true test is going to come in training camp," Trgovac said. "Johnny's smart. Johnny loves football. Johnny's a good football player but you really can't tell anything right now. He loves football and he's smart. He understands the game. Some of the things we changed since he left, he picked right up."

Jolly said he has "a lot of rust to knock off" but is blessed to get a second chance with the Packers.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's something I can't really explain, not too many guys get a second chance, and then coming back to the same team you were with, that says a lot about the organization, so my hat goes off to them, I thank them every day."


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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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