Last year, the Packers gave up a league low 83.3 yards per game on the ground. All season, teams had trouble running the ball on the Packers. Why was that?
The Linebackers played very well, but we all know where it starts: Up front on the Defensive Line. These massive 300-pounders stuffed the run like no other team in '09.
That same Line returns completely intact for the 2010 season, but with one wild card in Johnny Jolly.
Last year, Jolly had 39 tackles and one sack. That's not blowing anybody away, but his interception against Chicago in Week One and his defensive line-high 10 passes defensed did.
Jolly is awaiting trial for illegal possession of Codeine. As it looks right now, he probably won't serve any jail time, but a possible four-game suspension is looming.
If Jolly could miss the first four games of the 2010 season, why do the Packers not seem worried?
The reason stems around BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett's maturity. The team has announced that Raji will be the starting NT for this season which means that Pickett will back him up, but also mainly play at DE.
Pickett played very well at NT last season, a task that is must harder than one may think and crucial to the success of the 3-4 defense. If Jolly is out for the first four games then Pickett will start at DE. That would give the Packers a starting defensive line of Jenkins, Raji, and Pickett.
That's still pretty good.
Raji showed some definite promise last year with 25 tackles and a sack. This included at least one tackle in every game from week four on. He was hampered early in the season by an ankle injury, which shouldn't be a problem at all this season. Raji has shown immense promise and has the whole team believing in him. His goal for the 2010 season—"Just cause havoc."
At the other DE spot we have the best defensive lineman on the team, Cullen Jenkins. He played so well at the 3-4 DE position that he even garnered some Pro Bowl consideration. Last year, he posted 32 tackles and a defensive line high 4.5 sacks. This season he will try to prove his worth even more by playing at LOLB in one defensive package.
Those four players will rotate on the line for most of the season. However, there is some real promise and serious competition behind them.
In the second round of the draft, the Packers selected DE Mike Neal out of Purdue. Neal recorded 5.5 sacks in both his junior and senior seasons for the Boilermakers. The Packers believe he could become a starter some time in the near future, but for now, will contribute for them off the bench.
Competing for the last couple spots on the Defensive Line is second-year player Jarius Wynn, seventh-round draft pick CJ Wilson, and veteran, always hurt-bust Justin Harrell. Harrell has the most potential but hasn't shown any of it, as he's been on IR. Wynn played fairly well in his limited playing time last year as a rookie, but will have some competition with rookie CJ Wilson. Wilson was an odd draft choice at first, but is starting to make more sense now.
However it ends up breaking down, the Packers will have a lot of depth on the defensive line this season.
Overall, this is one of, if not the best 3-4 defensive line in the league. They can get even better this year because of the potential All-Pro ability of BJ Raji.
I think it is safe to say that the front seven will be at the worst stout next year. I'm look forward to training camp to see how they look. It's going to be exciting to say the least.