Offseason Progress Report: Defensive Line

Will the defense follow Mike Daniels' lead? And will B.J. Raji and Datone Jones have impact seasons after being disappointments in 2013?

With four weeks of offseason practices behind them, Packer Report is taking a position-by-position look at the Green Bay Packers, continuing with the defensive line.

Depth charts

NO.PLAYERPOSHTWTAGEEXPSCHOOL
93 Boyd, Josh DE 6-3 310 24 2 Mississippi State
95 Jones, Datone DE 6-4 285 23 2 UCLA
94 Thornton, Khyri DE 6-3 304 24 R Southern Mississippi
99 Worthy, Jerel DE 6-2 304 24 3 Michigan State
74 Gray, Carlos DE 6-2 313 21 R North Carolina State
97 Robinson, Luther DE 6-3 301 23 R Miami
NO.PLAYERPOSHTWTAGEEXPSCHOOL
90 Raji, B.J. DT 6-2 337 27 6 Boston College
76 Daniels, Mike DT 6-0 300 25 3 Iowa
98 Guion, Letroy DT 6-4 315 27 7 Florida State
64 Pennel, Mike DT 6-4 332 23 R Colorado State-Pueblo

The answer

The phrase du jour of the offseason was "less scheme, more packages."

There have been changes in personnel, too, with the additions of Letroy Guion in free agency and Khyri Thornton in the draft, plus the position change for B.J. Raji.

That's all well and good, but Mike Daniels has put himself in charge of a different kind of change.

That's a change in attitude.

"Me, personally, being a leader, I'm looking to make the defense a lot meaner, get after guys a little bit," Daniels said. "A lot of times, you look on tape the last couple of years, some of our guys get shoved in the back after plays. I've seen it happen to some defensive linemen. Now that I'm older and I'm a little more vocal, that's unacceptable. Every game, one of our offensive guys gets knocked out, maybe two, so it's about time we returned the favor to other teams instead of just getting pushed around all the time.

"It's just a little bit of a different attitude. A little meaner. A lot meaner. Actually, being mean for once because, quite frankly, we haven't been. I think that's been our biggest problem on defense. So, I'm personally going to make that my job to really get the best out of everybody. I don't care if I've got to hit somebody before we get on the field. If that's going to (tick) them off and they take it out on somebody on the other team, then so be it."

Daniels can talk the talk because he's walked the walk. As the latest poster child for the team's draft-and-develop philosophy, Daniels had a breakout second season with 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits. The second figure, as kept by the team, was No. 2 on the team and almost matched the rest of the unit's combined count of 18. He also was tied for second on the team with nine tackles for losses.

The question

Who picks up the slack after the unit's top three performers in terms of tackles per snaps, Johnny Jolly, C.J. Wilson and Ryan Pickett, were not brought back in free agency?

The key is Raji. Much has been made of his return to nose tackle, and rightfully so, considering he said it was a "major factor" in his decision to re-sign in free agency. However, the team lines up in its base defense on only about one-fourth of the defensive snaps, so that's about 250 plays per year. And it's not as if he didn't play any nose tackle the past three seasons. Whether it's at nose tackle in the base defense or one of the interior tackles in the nickel packages, Raji simply must do better after averaging a unit worst 17.17 snaps per tackle.

The other key is Datone Jones. Last year's first-round pick had an excellent start to training camp until rolling an ankle in the preseason opener. The injury impacted him physically and, more so, mentally. He was second on the unit with three sacks and 10 quarterback hits, and was fourth (and first among returning players) with a tackle rate of 10.68 snaps per tackle. Still, he saw his playing time slashed late in the season and made almost no impact in the base defense.

Confidence, to state the obvious, isn't an issue.

"I felt like I finished strong," he said. "I didn't come out with 30 sacks like everybody expected. I felt like I finished strong. I felt like a lot of guys don't come into the NFL hot. Most guys, even a lot of legends across the NFL, you look at their numbers and what they did the first year. It's not amazing but it's about what they do the following year. How did they get better? That's who I am. I had a chance to go look at the film from last year and every day I come out making sure I'm progressing every day. Making sure I'm getting after it."

Roster prediction

Raji, Daniels, Jones, Guion, Thornton and Josh Boyd.


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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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