Mike Pennel knows he’s let the team down.
Without B.J. Raji this season, the Green Bay Packers need more from their returning defensive linemen. Pennel, however, won’t be around for the first four games, having been slapped with a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
“No question,” Pennel said on Tuesday. “Every year and every game, I feel like I’ve been getting better and better. There were things discussed where my role was going to be even more than it was the year before. Now, it’s just like, getting the young guys ready so there’s not much a drop-off once we enter the season.”
After a vagabond college career that started with two years at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, an abbreviated season at Arizona State and, finally, a year at Colorado State-Pueblo, Pennel made the Packers’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Last year was a bit of a breakthrough, with Pennel starting three games early in the season in place of suspended Letroy Guion and then replacing Guion in the starting lineup for a couple games down the stretch. He finished the season with 35 tackles, with a defensive-line-best tackle rate of one for every 8.40 snaps. Opponents averaged 0.11 yards less per carry with Pennel on the field. Plus, he chipped in seven pressures, more than all but Daniels among the defensive line corps.
With Raji’s decision to not play this season, the 6-foot-4, 332-pound Pennel figured to see increased playing time to, at the very least, help ease the transition of rookies Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry. Instead, Pennel’s suspension leaves the Packers vulnerable up front, with only Daniels, Guion and Datone Jones having ever played a regular-season snap on the defensive line of Green Bay’s 3-4 base defense.
“Everybody’s been supportive (but) everybody’s disappointed,” Pennel said. “I’m embarrassed for my family, the organization.”
Cornerback Demetri Goodson also will start the season with a four-game suspension, with his penalty coming from breaking the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Goodson said he was “shocked” when he learned of the positive drug test.
While Pennel’s suspension hurts the team as much as it hurts him, Goodson’s suspension only hurts himself. A sixth-round pick in 2014 who was unable to hold off top draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins for a spot in the rotation last year, Goodson would have been in a fight just to make the roster.
“I’m not worried about the roster battles and stuff like that,” Goodson said. “I just come in to work every day and work hard. I feel like everything else will just fall into place. I don’t really worry about making the roster. I never do that. I just feel like everybody here knows me, knows I’m a very good person. I didn’t do anything on purpose to cause this to happen, but it still happened. Just take the good with the bad and just keep on moving on to be ready to play when my time comes again.”
During Tuesday’s organized team activity, with Sam Shields (absent) and Rollins (injured) not participating, the Packers used Randall and Ladarius Gunter as their top cornerback pairing.
Pennel and Goodson will be allowed to practice throughout training camp and play in the preseason games. During their suspensions, they can be around the team but won’t be allowed to practice or, obviously, play in the games.
“My plan is to come in even better,” Pennel said. “I’m going to work to the best of my ability to do that.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.