B.J. Raji’s retirement was the cause.
Kenny Clark being drafted in the first round was the effect.
That created a cause-and-effect assumption: Clark would take Raji’s spot in the lineup.
However, you know what they say about those who assume.
When the Packers have used their base defense, Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion have been joined by a rookie. But it’s not been Clark. Rather, it’s been fourth-round pick Dean Lowry, with Lowry and Daniels as the ends and Guion at nose tackle.
It’s not a knock on Clark, who happens to be out with a sore back. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of what’s evident in the statistics.
Guion is better at nose tackle.
“I think that’s a fair statement,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers agreed this week. “I think Letroy is a better nose tackle than out at the end. That’s where he’s played. We’ve used him out at the end at certain times but we like him inside at the nose tackle. When we play our nickel defense, we like him in there on one of the guards or over the center.”
When Raji tore his biceps during the 2014 preseason, Guion stepped in at nose tackle and posted his best season, with career-high totals of 62 tackles and 3.5 sacks. After starting last season with a three-game suspension, Guion had 41 tackles and no sacks as he played defensive end while Raji returned to duty at nose tackle. He didn’t start any of the team’s final seven games as he fell into a timeshare with Mike Pennel.
So, the Packers have gone with Guion at nose tackle and figured Lowry was the better option at end.
“Coming out of (Northwestern), he was more of a defensive end type, sometimes even outside the tight end,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said last week. “So that’s probably the most natural thing to him, right there playing the five or outside the tackle. And, obviously, length helps you on that when you’re in that position.”
Lowry might not be long — as in long-limbed. His 32.5-inch arms are why the explosive and productive Lowry slipped into the fourth round. However, at 6-foot-5 3/4, he’s 3 1/8 inches taller than Clark.
Because of how he was used at Northwestern, playing defensive end in the base defense is familiar territory for Lowry. However, the Packers play out of their nickel and dime packages on more than two-thirds of the defensive snaps, so Lowry has had to learn how to play inside against guards.
So far, Lowry has been fine, but defensive line is a difficult position for rookies to contribute. As a first-round pick in 2009, for instance, Raji started one game.
“I think he’s like any rookie,” Capers said. “I think he’s made progress. We’re pleased with the progress he’s making. There’s a lot of things he’s seeing for the first time. He’s not played as much inside at the nickel as some of the other guys because he’s been out on the tackles a lot more. We’ve used him at a wide-five technique but we’ve also gotten him a lot of reps because we play a lot of nickel. Inside at the three technique, that’s new to him. I think he’s made progress.”
At 6-foot-6 and 296 pounds — and with a fondness for the delicious food served up in the cafeteria — Lowry has the size to beat blocks as an end in the base defense. And as one of the most athletic big guys in the draft, he has the quickness to win inside in the nickel and dime packages.
“I think that I might be a little undersized to play the three-tech,” he said, “but I can use my quickness to get in the backfield at times, especially in blitzes where we’re ripping inside and movements where I can get in the backfield.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.