'Big Brother' Jolly's Presence Will Be Missed

Johnny Jolly, despite a three-year suspension, had become a key run defender and locker room leader. With Jolly sidelined by a neck injury, he'll continue being a team leader but others will have to take his place between the lines.

Johnny Jolly went from prison and a long shot to make the roster, to a starter and key cog of the defense.

Not to mention leader and mentor.

First-round pick Datone Jones on Friday called Jolly his "older brother."

"He's definitely a guy that looks out for the younger guys to make sure that we have everything under control, make sure that we know our assignments," Jones said. "He's a leader in this locker room. To see him go down, it's sad. You never wish that on anyone."

With Jolly likely out for the rest of the season with what coach Mike McCarthy labeled a "significant" neck injury, the Packers have a hole in their defense that must be plugged in time for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh.

Not the least of which is Jolly's mere presence.

"I think that said a lot about his character and the kind of person he is and, really, probably the biggest thing is how much football means to him," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "The guy just deep down inside just loves football. He loves playing this game and this game means a lot to him."

Jolly's injury has not been disclosed but he remains with the team, both in meetings and on the practice field. So, his presence will be felt, just not by dropping running backs in the backfield. It was Jolly's halftime speech, several teammates said, that provided a spark with the Packers getting throttled at Dallas last week.

"Johnny's been in everything this week," Trgovac said. "He's just not playing on the field this week. It's one of those deals where he's talking to them. There's been some games where he's not been on the field. When he's not on the field, he does a great job of talking to guys on the sideline."

Jolly has 38 tackles and six tackles for losses — both figures are second among the team's defensive linemen — with one sack, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery. He had missed just one game this season, the Nov. 24 contest against Minnesota. Without Jolly, the Vikings rushed for 232 yards in a 26-26 tie.

"One of the things that amazed me about Johnny is when I had him here in 2009, I thought he was one of the most instinctive players that I've ever had," Trgovac said. "And then he was out of football for '10, '11, '12 and then the first or second practice, he came out there and I watched him and he still hasn't lost his instincts. He's very instinctive that way and it's something that the media was asking me, ‘Do you think he can do it?' I said, ‘I don't know, we'll have to see because this has never happened to me before as a coach.' Johnny's instincts, those are hard to replace."

Without Jolly on Sunday, the Packers will count on C.J. Wilson and rookie Josh Boyd to help hold the fort in the run game, with Jones saying he'd have an expanded role, as well. Wilson had been the Packers' best run-stopping defensive lineman the past two seasons before being unseated by Jolly. He has missed the last three games with an injured ankle.

"We kept an extra d-lineman for the rotational purposes if someone goes down we can have other guys step up," Wilson said. "I know that Josh being a young guy, but if you look at how he plays, he'll be a great player. You have Datone coming a long and Mike Daniels doing a great job, as well as myself. I definitely want to get out there and help. And we also have (Jerel) Worthy out there with his leg getting stronger. We have a great team and I don't think it's going to be a drop-off."

Without Wilson and with Jolly limited to just six snaps against the Cowboys, Boyd played 32 snaps — almost as many snaps as he had played all season.

"From midseason on, Josh has done a great job of progressing each week, detailing his work more and more each week," Trgovac said. "I think you can see he possesses the ability to defeat and blocker and burst off a block and go make a play. He has a chance to be a very good player. It's just how far he wants to take his game."

Jolly, 30, is in his final season under contract. What's next remains to be seen.

"I don't know what the end is," Trgovac said. "I don't know what's been said or what they tell you but Johnny means a lot to us, not only as a good football player. I think we have some good football players in our room but Jolly brings a lot of intangibles to the room."

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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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