Wells entered training camp last year as the three-year starter at center. He arrived in camp a little bigger and stronger than ever, and responded with a fine preseason. Nonetheless, he lost the starting job to Jason Spitz. Wells didn't sulk, and when Chad Clifton's ankle injury in Week 2 resulted in musical chairs up front, Wells found himself back in the lineup. He responded with what the coaches agree was his finest season. He wasn't perfect by any stretch, with four sacks allowed and four penalties (all holding), according to STATS. He's had better seasons in pass protection but his strength, savvy, toughness and intelligence helped him to strong performances against big-time nose tackles Pat Williams, Shaun Rogers and Jay Ratliff. He enters this camp as the unchallenged starter. Spitz figures to be the backup, unless he beats out Daryn Colledge at left guard. Dietrich-Smith, an undrafted rookie last year who showed plenty of strength and toughness during camp, has starter's potential, the coaches think. McDonald is an undrafted rookie who could wind up on the practice squad. He was an All-American left tackle at Division II Grand Valley State.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, on Wells: "I thought he had a very good year. I thought he played well. I put down, I think he probably had his best year since he's been here. And so, very pleased with how he played. I thought his run blocking, which has always been a strength, was very good. He did an excellent job there. I think his communication was better, even as a center, than it's been. Obviously, that's an important part of the job."
Could be better
Jonathan Goodwin was a backup for most of his first six seasons in the NFL, and the Saints retained in 2008 with a modest three-year, $8.5 million deal. Last year, Goodwin played in the Pro Bowl and helped the Saints win the Super Bowl.
Could be worse
Last offseason, the Rams made a free agent splash by signing Jason Brown away from the Ravens with a five-year deal worth $37.5 million. Brown's a good player but it didn't make a bit of difference for the dreadful Rams. Just goes to show that on the interior line, you're generally better off paying modest money to an above-average player.
On a scale of 1 to 10 ...
Wells is just solid. He won't wow anyone with powerful drive blocking or dominating pass protection. He's not the guy you look to for the key block on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line. He's just a quality player who won't lose you any games. The depth is superb with Spitz and Dietrich-Smith.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Why mess with success? Last year with Pickett anchoring the middle, the Packers led the NFL in run defense for the first time in franchise history. Nonetheless, the Packers need to get last year's top pick, Raji, into the starting lineup, and since he was drafted to play nose tackle, he'll take over and Pickett will slide out to Johnny Jolly's spot at left end. It's a gamble because Raji wasn't all that impressive while playing about 10 snaps per game at nose tackle last season. Job One for a nose tackle is to hold his ground against double-team blocks. Too often, Raji played too high and got moved out of the middle. With that said, he's big, strong and explosive, and there's little reason to believe Raji won't do a fine job now that he's over a high-ankle sprain and can focus solely on the nose after playing all over the line last year. Pickett himself said Raji is the better nose tackle. Most likely, Pickett will be the sole backup at nose tackle.
Raji, on why he prefers nose tackle to end: "My relationship to the quarterback is a little bit closer. As opposed to having to beat a tackle around the edge, then shifting to second gear, I can use my strength and athleticism to get to the quarterback much quicker."
Could be better
Dallas' Ratliff certainly doesn't look like a nose tackle at 6-foot-4 and about 305 pounds. But he's a two-time Pro Bowler in the Cowboys' 3-4. A seventh-round pick in 2005, the Packers could have taken him in the fifth round (Junius Coston and Mike Hawkins) or sixth round (Michael Montgomery and Craig Bragg).
Could be worse
The Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes suffered a major blow when nose tackle Jason Ferguson — who was facing an eight-game suspension — abruptly retired last week. Staying in the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills are switching to the 3-4, and their candidates are 306-pound Kyle Williams and second-round pick Torell Troup. So, while the Packers have two quality nose tackles, other teams might not have any.
On a scale of 1 to 10 ...
With a 10 being Charles Woodson against anybody, a 5 being Mason Crosby from 45 yards and the ball on the right hash and a 1 being Allen Barbre against anybody, this position group rates an 8.5.
It all depends on Raji. If he plays up to his incredible ability, the Packers will have the best nose tackle situation in the league. If not, the Packers will be lucky to finish in the top half of the league in run defense, much less No. 1 again. Considering how much emphasis coordinator Dom Capers puts on playing the run, it's not an understatement to say that the fate of the season will fall in large part on Raji.
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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 email@example.com, 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.