Jolly's Biggest Challenge: Numbers

Johnny Jolly turned in a memorable performance at St. Louis but the Packers' depth at defensive line means a roster spot will be hard to win.

The Green Bay Packers run the 3-4 as a starting point, but their base defense is nickel. On about two-thirds of their defensive snaps last season, they lined up with just two defensive linemen.

From that perspective, the Packers don't need seven defensive linemen. With B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones and Mike Neal locks to make the roster, surging Mike Daniels practically a sure bet and C.J. Wilson being the unit's top tackler on a per-snap basis last year, the Packers are likely to carry those six when they select their 53-man roster on Aug. 31.

Still, Johnny Jolly — the 30-year-old defensive end who is back from a three-year NFL suspension — might force general manager Ted Thompson and the coaching staff to rethink the math.

Jolly performed brilliantly in Saturday night's 19-7 victory over St. Louis. Jolly was credited with two tackles. He deflected one pass that turned into an interception, and he dropped into coverage on a zone blitz and made a goal-line interception off a deflection by Loyce Means. He also split a double team on a running play that turned into a 2-yard loss.

"One moment that sticks out more than any tonight was Johnny Jolly having an interception," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "If you could have a camera on the sideline, I know what I was doing: I was jumping up and down, running down the sideline and I know James Jones was doing the same thing. There were probably 25 guys on the field congratulating him. That just says a lot about his presence, his personality, the way the guys feel about him, how happy we are to have him back and he played great tonight. He had a tip that went for the first interception and then he picked the second one off. So I'm happy he's back and I couldn't be happier for him."

At the start of the third quarter, Jolly was sealed on a 6-yard run by Isaiah Pead. It was perhaps his lone negative on the night. Two plays later, on third-and-3, Jolly got a decent push up the middle and stuck up his left hand to deflect a ball that was intercepted by Jarrett Bush.

When Jolly last played in 2009, not only was he an anchor on the NFL's best run defense, but he deflected 11 passes — four more than any defensive lineman in the NFL and most by a Packers defensive lineman since the team began tracking that stat in 1980.

"It's pretty much hand-and-eye coordination, reading the quarterback stepping up into the pocket, watching and seeing when he's about to release the ball, and the pressure the offensive line is under," Jolly said. "It's all reaction. When the ball comes your direction, get your hands up. And I was able to get it."

Jolly's instincts have stood out since his first day of offseason practices.

"He's a very instinctive football player," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It speaks a lot to Johnny Jolly's case to make our football team, so when I talk about the team taking a step forward, I think Johnny's definitely taking a step. You're starting to see the player that was here a few years back. I was very happy for his individual success tonight."

Added B.J. Raji, who played alongside Jolly in 2009: "It's amazing how no matter how long you've been gone — sometimes you lose the technical part of it, but the instincts never go it seems like. That's the biggest thing I'm impressed with Johnny. I thought it would be a lot of catch back up with the technique, but he's still very instinctive and seems to have a nose for the ball."

Still, Jolly is anything but a lock — he also has to hold off fifth-round pick Josh Boyd — though perhaps the Packers can save a roster spot with Neal doubling as an outside linebacker.

"Man, it's just a matter of continuing to work hard and get better in everything I do and try my best to stick with the plan the coaches give me," Jolly said. "If I continue to do that, I'll be fine."

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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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