Mike Pennel has let the team down twice this year with a pair of suspensions but Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is standing behind the troubled defensive tackle.
“It’s disappointing professionally but, personally, Mike has an issue and it’s the focus of our football program to help him through this time,” McCarthy said on Thursday morning. “That’s really my focus and that’s really the conversation that I had with Mike Pennel.”
Pennel was suspended for the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse, then was suspended for the final four games of the regular season for another violation of the substance-abuse policy on Tuesday. That’s eight games, meaning he’s had to forfeit nearly half of his $600,000 base salary.
Taking a longer-term view, this is the final season of Pennel’s three-year rookie contract, meaning he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. While a talented player with a rare combination of size and athleticism, it’s fair to wonder how much interest a twice-suspended player will get in free agency, even though he emerged as a promising young player during the second half of last season.
Pennel’s suspension leaves an open roster spot. McCarthy said the injury situation could dictate how that roster spot is filled. The Packers could promote undrafted rookie defensive tackle Brian Price from the practice squad, which would keep the team with six defensive linemen. Price played 10 snaps against Detroit in Week 3, when Pennel was serving his first suspension. Or, given the avalanche of injuries at linebacker, undrafted rookie outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert could earn a promotion.
Regardless, the Packers’ rookie draft picks, first-rounder Kenny Clark and fourth-rounder Dean Lowry, will need to play more. Lowry played a career-high 18 snaps vs. Houston last week. That total matched his combined total from the previous six games, which included zero the week before at Philadelphia. Clark played a career-low seven snaps last week after averaging 24.4 the previous 10 games.
“It's the same as the first four games of the season,” Clark said. “A lot of us had to step up, I think we handled it well. You've got to just take that same approach, make sure we hit the film room harder and the practice field hard, and get ready to play.”
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.