The timing of Johnny Jolly's trial isn't ideal for the Packers. Or for Jolly, for that matter.
Jolly's trial, delayed several times since his July 8, 2008, arrest for possession of codeine, is set to begin on Friday in Houston. While the delays allowed Jolly to play through last season and participate in offseason practices to learn the new defense, his trial date could leave the Packers with a big hole on the defensive line and impact his future on the roster.
If everything works in the Packers' favor, the defensive line should be a strength this season. With Ryan Pickett at nose tackle, Cullen Jenkins and B.J. Raji as the defensive ends and Jolly and 2007 first-round pick Justin Harrell in reserve, the Packers would have five big bodies up front among what figures to be six linemen on the roster.
But what if Jolly is found guilty later this month? While he may be given probation instead of time in prison, tough-on-crime Commissioner Roger Goodell likely would suspend first-time-offender Jolly for four games. Add in Harrell's injury history, and the defensive line could go from strength to weakness quickly.
Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac likes the group he's working with. After the five big guys, Michael Montgomery (6-foot-5, 282 pounds) had some productive games last season, Alfred Malone (6-4, 312) has some potential and the requisite size and rookies Jarius Wynn (6-3, 285) and Ronald Talley (6-3, 286) impressed during noncontact drills this spring.
Still, losing Jolly from the mix would be a big blow, unless Harrell suddenly becomes productive and impervious to pain. Jolly (6-3, 325) started all 16 games last season and has 23 starts in his last two seasons. He's not a pass rusher and he's not the prototype 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, but his bulk alone gives him a chance to play a major role as a reserve, mostly at end but potentially at nose tackle should Pickett or Raji be hobbled.
If found guilty, a suspension would mean more than just missing four games. Jolly would be rendered an afterthought during training camp and the preseason, since Trgovac's focus would be getting his group ready for the start of the season. Since Jolly wouldn't be available for those early games, there would be little reason to give him a considerable number of reps.
At this point, the Packers probably wish Jolly's trial had started on schedule in late June so they'd know his fate.
If he's found guilty, the Packers might feel inclined to move on without him. If so, there remains two available free agents with experience playing 3-4 defensive end: Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday.
Carter's agent, Harold Lewis, has said there had been a mutual interest between Carter and the Packers, though he did not respond to an e-mail this week to see if that interest was ongoing.
Carter, who turns 36 in September, hasn't missed a game in his 14-year career. The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder, who is renowned for keeping himself in tip-top shape, played for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers while both were in Miami in 2006. He has 104.5 career sacks, including a combined seven with Tampa Bay in 2007 and 2008. He's known as a terrific leader, which would be an added bonus with the likes of Raji, Wynn and Talley on the roster.
Holliday, 33, worked with Capers in Miami in 2006 and 2007. While Holliday (6-5, 285) might not have the ideal measurements to play 3-4 end, he has played the position effectively for the Dolphins. He has 55 sacks in 11 seasons, including a combined 5.5 in 2007 and 2008. He's also a respected locker-room presence.
A third possibility would be Anthony Weaver, who at 6-foot-3 and 274 pounds is on the small side but was an effective 3-4 end for the Ravens before playing a 4-3 end for Houston the last three seasons.
Another option would be former Broncos defensive lineman Dewayne Robertson. At 6-foot-1 and 308 pounds, he might be better-suited for 4-3 tackle but he played in the Jets' 3-4 in 2007. The fourth overall pick of the 2003 draft, Robertson has 90 career starts and 16 sacks.
And finally, there's John Thornton. Thornton (6-3, 297), 32, told Packer Report via his AllProBlogger.com that he's heard he's on the Packers' list of possibilities but doubts anything will happen. He's been a 4-3 defensive tackle for all 10 NFL seasons, including the last six as a starter for Cincinnati.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.