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AG20 Roster Thoughts: Defensive Line
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AlexGreen#20


Joined: 13 Jun 2012
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:56 pm    Post subject: AG20 Roster Thoughts: Defensive Line Reply with quote

BJ Raji



Throughout the past four seasons, a trend has emerged: ďAs goes BJ Raji, so goes the Packer defense.Ē When Raji was playing at a freakishly high level in 2010, the defense dominated. In 2011 when Rajiís game fell off, the defense fell off with it. When Raji pushed his performance back up in 2012, the defense played pretty well. Last year, Raji was nothing to write home about and the defense collapsed. Thatís not to say that Raji is the most important player on the defense, because thatís not the case, but when Raji plays at a high level it creates entire levels and sublevels of problems for opposing offenses.

Raji is capable of pulling functional grades at minimal effort levels. Heís a huge guy and his lateral agility is excellent at scale. At minimum, heís a functional gap stuffer, however, heís capable of being much more. Thereís no excuse for Rajiís inability to keep offensive lineman off his pads like he struggled with in 2013. Heís shown the ability to stay clean before, and that he struggled doing so is concerning and likely speaks to effort concerns, either that he wasnít playing as hard as necessary or he was exhausted from not being in shape. I have no patience for either. His inability to stay clean lead to some issues anchoring. Of the 340+ pound behemoths in the league, Raji likely has the worst anchor. Now heís still a good run defender, and a guy capable of eating a ton of snaps but you want to see more out of him. His role in the nickel likely wonít change significantly, but moving him inside where he will deal with less length is going to help him in the base.

The pass rush that Raji showed in 2010 may be gone forever. As big guys get older they get functionally stronger and develop better anchors, but they lose much of the explosion in their legs. They stop being significant pass rushing threats and develop into run plugs. That transition is likely happening with Raji. Now thatís not to say that the complete and total lack of anything resembling a push that he showed in 2013, is acceptable but I wouldnít expect 40+ pressures from the guy. Heís now going to be the least focused on defender along the front line in the nickel, heís got to take advantage of that. Thereís no excuse for him not to show well. Again, the positional change in the base should help him. Rajiís strength against most centers should be a mismatch.

It was time for Ryan Pickett to go. The Packers adjusted to Pickettís lack of lateral agility by moving him inside to nose tackle, naturally Raji got moved out to DE. This move helped to prolong Pickettís career, and by extension was best for the team, but individually it hurt Raji. He should only play between the Guards, and with the new look defense, that is likely where he is going to stay. If Raji really does come to play, this defense has the chance to dominate.

Mike Daniels



Mike Daniels was the best defender on the Packers in 2013, the mummified version of Clay Matthews just wasnít up to marks. If Mike Daniels is your best defender, your defense probably isnít very good, but Daniels is certainly an effective player. Physically, Daniels lacks ideal length, everybody knows this. ďToo shortĒ is probably tattooíd on his forehead at this point, but Daniels turns his height to his advantage. He is a leverage king. Playing against short players sucks. Everything about line play is a game of leverage, and having to consistently bend deeper than youíre used to because the opposing player is a midget, is a pain in the [inappropriate/removed]. With the shorter guys you worry about their ability to stay clean, but Daniels is such a tenacious hand fighter that he gets his hands inside on most downs. Leverage and inside hand placement is a recipe for winning a
lot of reps.

The other misconception about Daniels is that heís small. Daniels is short, but heís not small. The guy is thick. That body type at 6í2 is playing at 315 or 320 rather than the even 300 Daniels is at. Heís strong, and so long as the lack of length doesnít kill him, heís a tough guy to move. Iím not sure he isnít maxed out physically, but even if he is, there are only a handful of
guys in the league that do Danielsí job better.

Mike Neal and Datone Jones may be better interior rushers than Daniels, but at their respective weights neither of them had a prayer of playing every down last year. Daniels was only slightly worse at getting after the quarterback, but he was also a plus run defender for what he was asked to do. Daniels is quick, strong, and relentless, and needs to be playing far more than he was last year. He wasnít even playing in the base until Jolly went down and then he was platooned with Boyd at the SSDE spot. Daniels needs to be at the WSDE spot if heís going to be playing in the base, but there was an understandable reluctance to reshuffle the defensive line so late in the year. In 2014 I would expect Daniels to end up platooned with Worthy as the WSDE while starting full time in the nickel. Daniels is a better player, but there will likely be some desire to keep him fresh for his work in the sub packages. If Datone Jones can handle more nickel reps, it would allow Daniels to play more in the base.

A write up of Daniels in July of 2014 would be incomplete without mention of his attempting to take on the mantle of ďleader of the defenseĒ. I was never a player who appreciated the locker room pre-game theatrics. The screaming of clichťs and slapping of helmets always irritated me more than it fired me up. I can acknowledge that it was important for some of my teammates. I also was far more tolerant of it if the guy doing the yelling wasnít yelling because they were trying to follow some script. Fake tough is the most annoying thing on a football team. Mike Daniels is not fake tough, this is a player has worked his [inappropriate/removed] off to develop a significant skill lean and to overcome a less than ideal body. If thereís anyone in the Packers locker room that you would hope young players would look up to and attempt to emulate, itís Mike Daniels. Heís done his talking in the press, itís going to be interesting to see whether or not his teammates can step up and back up his words.

Josh Boyd


If anyone on this Packers team has a motor to rival Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews, itís Josh Boyd. The guy never quits on a play and thatís an extremely admirable quality. Iím aware of the unspoken code amongst football writers that if the first thing you write about a guy is how hard he works, it means heís a talentless try-hard, but thatís not the case with Boyd. Itís just impossible to focus on him and not want to stand up and applaud the effort. The man has talent and is going to play a very real role for the Packers in 2014.

Boyd was played almost exclusively at SSDE in 2013, but he picked up a handful of reps at NT and got a few in the nickel looks. I would expect the percentages to say the same only on significantly higher volume. With Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly gone, thereís a large number of snaps available for large men and Boyd definitely qualifies and will be called on to take on a very heavy load. Some has been written about Boydís weight gain, and a lot of assumptions have been made about a potential move to nose tackle, but I wouldnít read too much into that. Every team does biometric testing and apparently it was determined that Boyd could carry about 330 pounds before he would expect to see noticeable loss of quickness by several teams before he was drafted. Similar to Daniels, the guy is extremely thick. Itís not bad weight either, if the Packers were concerned about his body composition he wouldíve been working on a different program than the rest of the team at OTAs. The added weight doesnít limit him to one position, it opens up options and should make him a better player.

As a pass rusher, Boyd has the springy legs of youth and a high motor but not much else. Heís not going to be a guy who makes his money getting after the QB. Hi everybody, Iím curious to see who is actually reading so this sentence and the next one is a test. If youíve gotten this far, mention Gilbert Brown in your reply. Thanks also please donít say anything. He will consistently get some push, but heís just not real quick and doesnít have a vast array of rushing moves. Heís not overly explosive to the point heís going to drive through people.

As a run defender, I would expect Boyd to be a standout. The guy can move laterally, and he was tough to move at 310, at 330 heís going to be just about impossible. Hopefully with a year of experience under his belt, he cuts out a few of the mental errors and lets his talent play out. I wouldnít expect prime Ryan Pickett type performance, but I could certainly see him out performing the 2013 version of Jolly.

Datone Jones



Datone Jones was equal parts fantastic and terrible in 2013. Athletically, he just needs to put on weight and keep it on. He was dipping down into the 270s at the end of 2013 and that just canít happen. I understand that he isnít a thick guy and that he canít be heavy lifting during the season, but something has to happen to keep him functional. I know heís a grown man, but having an eating regimen put together for him may be something thatís necessary long term if he canít regulate his body himself. Heís cat-quick which made him a really good interior rusher last year, but he just couldnít hold up against the run. The long term plans for Jones when he was selected did not include him playing exclusively in the dime so he needs to be bigger and stouter in 2014.

Jonesí role with this team long term is somewhat up in the air with the presence of Mike Daniels. They have many of the same strengths and their ideal positions are overlapping. Depth is always good to have, but Jones needs to get on the field. Itís likely that coming into 2014 he will have developed enough of an anchor to get his reps in the nickel, which is the biggest thing for him. If one of Daniels and Jones can stay on the field at all times in the nickel, we shouldnít have the long droughts of interior pressure. If they can see the field together without getting murdered against the run, the defense becomes frightening. I doubt such significant leaps are made that Jones is going to see many/any reps in the base, both due to his own lack of anchor and Daniels and Worthy both needing reps, but that may be a goal for 2015.

The dime package that the Packers were able to put together when fully healthy was an incredibly effective unit. Jones and Mike Neal were really able to do some damage on the inside. Injuries forced Neal out to OLB full time, but Jonesí pressure numbers were outstanding. He was third on the team in pressures/snap and second in sacks/snap. Even with no improvement thereís a role for Jones on this team, but I expect improvement. Iím not sure that heís got the body to keep on weight to ever be a plus run defender, but if he reaches the point where he can hold his own and takes a step forward as a pass rusher, heís going to be a damn fine player.

Jerel Worthy



Itís unreasonable to allow the handful of snaps that Jerel Worthy took in 2013 to color our opinion of him. It was blatantly apparent that he was far from ready to be playing. The ACL tear that he suffered late in 2012 may have been fully healed, but thereís a difference between physically being healthy and being in shape to play in NFL games. Injuries forced him onto the field, but he probably should have been placed on IR.

The most intriguing aspect of Worthy and what makes him rather unique amongst the Packers defensive lineman is that heís capable of playing any position on the defensive line so long as heís given an offseason to develop the correct body. He may not play well there, but heíll give you serviceable reps. A fear that some had at the end of 2013 was that Worthy was going to be asked to put on a bunch of weight and play the SSDE spot full time. The emergence of Boyd, the drafting of Thornton, and even the signing of Peppers alleviated the need but at one point it was on the table. While it would have been the best move for the Packers at the time, turning a guy with potential to get after the QB into a run plug is almost never a wise move if it can be avoided. Restocking the defensive line was necessary.

Iím not a guy who strongly believes in Worthyís potential to be a star. Heís got a decent anchor, a good first step, and is extremely aggressive. The hope with his selection was that he would round out his skillset and be able to give you a big guy who could get after the quarterback. So far that hasnít come remotely close to happening, weíll see if he takes a big step forward after his lost season.

This year Worthy will probably start at the WSDE though he will likely cede the important downs to Daniels, and heíll sub in at both nickel spots depending on the situation. He may even be SSDE#2 based on how the roster finishes out. His playing time is extremely dependent on Datone Jonesí potential improvement. If Jones comes into camp and plays well, Worthy might not see many snaps.

Mike Neal



The story of Mike Neal is intriguing if nothing else. Similar to Datone Jones, he didnít have a real thick frame, but he kept building on it and with the use of certain PEDs built himself up even more. The problem was that his frame couldnít handle the mass and he kept getting hurt. Then he got caught with the PEDs and the possibility of being an every down defensive lineman pretty much died. Even then, he is still a useful player. He was a functional edge rusher, but what made him special was the ability to get after the QB from inside. Heís an ideal dime rusher, but injuries pretty much prevented him from playing that role in 2013. With Clay, Perry, and Peppers in town, itís likely Nealís going to be allowed to play where he belongs.

Itís hard to get too excited about Nealís effect on the team at this point. Itís likely that he comes into the season as the #4 edge rusher and only really sees dime reps on the defensive line. That isnít a lot of snaps barring some injuries to the edge rushers. Heís a valuable piece to have, and with our injury history, versatility comes at a premium but on sunny days itís hard to see too big of a role for him. On the other hand, come December when we have a handful of front 7 guys on IR, Iím sure weíll see Neal.

Khyri Thornton



As a general rule, rookie defensive lineman are worthless. The success rate of rookie defensive lineman taken outside of the first round is downright pitiful. Typically the Packers wonít keep a defensive lineman on the practice squad for that exact reason. Expect nothing from Khyri Thornton this year. This was a pick for the future, and in my opinion it was a good one. It seemed as though everyone in Wisconsin lost their mind when the Packers picked this guy. It wasnít a reach. Thornton comes from a small school that had little to no success since he was getting real playing time, and he was an interior defensive lineman, so the media didnít really catch on. Even amongst NFL teams he was a guy that came on very late as coaches started getting more involved in the process. He was a good prospect, he just wasnít a popular one on ESPN.

The game that made eyes fly open was the game against Arkansas. Travis Swanson is a damn good center, he went 76th overall to the Lions and that was a fantastic pick for them. Thornton kicked his [inappropriate/removed] all day long. Swanson went through the entire SEC schedule looking fantastic and simply hit a buzz saw against Southern Mississippi. The guy couldnít move Thornton, and when Thornton came after him, he was getting walked backwards. To many that film liked minutia, to the trained eye it looked marvelous.

Thornton throws his hands hard consistently. Thatís a trait that many rookie defensive lineman have to develop. He has a very good anchor, and heís put on some good weight since he was drafted. It would not surprise me a bit to see Thornton weigh in at 320 in training camp. If the Packers are looking for a successor to Raji like some fans are suggesting, it isnít Boyd, itís Thornton.

The pass rush is mediocre, heís pretty much a pure power guy and with the strong hands he generates some movement, but he isnít consistently getting past guys. Heís a pocket pusher which is acceptable. The guy doesnít have a super high ceiling, but he certainly can play a role for you, and into the future thatís likely what the Packers expect from him. Boyd and Thornton give the Packers some young beef.
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packabacka19


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent write-up AG, love hearing your perspective.

When I imagine you behind the keyboard I imagine an old, balding Gilbert Brown. Don't ask why.
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raj34


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Intriguing read...appreciate the effort. In your opinion, how does BJ Raji at his best (2010) compare to Gilbert Brown?
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CentralFC


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic writing, AG. It's one thing to have a great football mind, and it's another to be able to clearly and effectively communicate such thoughts.

Great work!
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dijatool


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope Boyd doesn't wind up Grave Digger sized.
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NormSizedMidget


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This stuff really ought to be on a blog somewhere that gets a crapton of views. It's that worth it for most GB fans. This type of stuff really doesn't exist much.
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HyponGrey


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This post needs more eyeshield. Like Gilbert Brown.
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PACKRULE


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope like hell we have anyone on this Dline that can play half as good as the old Grave Digger! : )
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Shish


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 9:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I recently rewatched SB XXXI and damn was Gilbert Brown a good anchor of that D! Really hope Raji still can show some of what he did in 2010.
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Kampman74


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gilbert was a beast, only once in my entire life will I see one man move aside three oline like they were paper ( maybe one was a fullback) and then still get in the backfield like he did. 96 Gilbert was a treat to watch.

I want to toot my own horn I said Thornton was the future nose after he was drafted. Of course I was probably throwing around Boyd as well. What makes one better than the other for the nose guard spot?

Insanely well written piece. Think I went on the local yokel spots and they had some garbage about Ted's worst pick. No story of his best pick though.

Anyhow, base vs nickel, we use the nickel as our base right? So that made this whole confusing as hell. Also SSDE doesn't usually go up against LT and WDE go up against RT, wouldn't we want to flip flop Daniels and Boyd then or else they are in for big weight mismatches?

Finally Daniels is a damn good defensive player and I hope to good that he is not just a rotation player. Defense is too devoid of talent to not have him on the field.

But great read as usually from you. Needs more gifs though. Wink
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AlexGreen#20


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 10:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kampman74 wrote:
Gilbert was a beast, only once in my entire life will I see one man move aside three oline like they were paper ( maybe one was a fullback) and then still get in the backfield like he did. 96 Gilbert was a treat to watch.

I want to toot my own horn I said Thornton was the future nose after he was drafted. Of course I was probably throwing around Boyd as well. What makes one better than the other for the nose guard spot?

Insanely well written piece. Think I went on the local yokel spots and they had some garbage about Ted's worst pick. No story of his best pick though.

Anyhow, base vs nickel, we use the nickel as our base right? So that made this whole confusing as hell. Also SSDE doesn't usually go up against LT and WDE go up against RT, wouldn't we want to flip flop Daniels and Boyd then or else they are in for big weight mismatches?

Finally Daniels is a damn good defensive player and I hope to good that he is not just a rotation player. Defense is too devoid of talent to not have him on the field.

But great read as usually from you. Needs more gifs though. Wink


Base refers to a 7 man front group. Nickel refers to a 6 man front group

SSDE and WSDE are only present in the base defense and are determined by the strength of the formation which is almost always determined by where the TE is. SSDE is on the TE side, WSDE is on the opposite side. For some reaosn it's become common when talking about positions to act as though the TE is always on the offenses right side. So our LDE is our SSDE in those conversations. Our LDE goes up against their RT typically because sides are mirrored over the ball.

Daniels will get his reps, no doubt about it. I could see 80% of snaps if Jones doesn't ball out.
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chucknorris101


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 18, 2014 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good Ol 93.

Nice work AG
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gizmo2012


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 18, 2014 8:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To me, of the guys you highlighted, Worthy is the bubble guy. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in camp.
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blankman0021


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 18, 2014 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very good read. Great work once again!

For some reason I have a small feeling we'll be seeing some 43 looks this year. The addition of Peppers is a game changer for this defense. Considering Peppers, Neal, and Perry all play the same type of hybrid DL/OLB role- I really hope we see a bit more of a niche defense designed around letting these guys get after it. Play to your players.

On a different note ... Hopefully this talk about Gilbert Brown and other former packers dressing up for cheerleaders this Halloween is put to rest. I'm not so sure my eyes would be OK after seeing 450 lbs in a mini skirt.


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Kampman74


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 18, 2014 10:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

AlexGreen#20 wrote:
Kampman74 wrote:
Gilbert was a beast, only once in my entire life will I see one man move aside three oline like they were paper ( maybe one was a fullback) and then still get in the backfield like he did. 96 Gilbert was a treat to watch.

I want to toot my own horn I said Thornton was the future nose after he was drafted. Of course I was probably throwing around Boyd as well. What makes one better than the other for the nose guard spot?

Insanely well written piece. Think I went on the local yokel spots and they had some garbage about Ted's worst pick. No story of his best pick though.

Anyhow, base vs nickel, we use the nickel as our base right? So that made this whole confusing as hell. Also SSDE doesn't usually go up against LT and WDE go up against RT, wouldn't we want to flip flop Daniels and Boyd then or else they are in for big weight mismatches?

Finally Daniels is a damn good defensive player and I hope to good that he is not just a rotation player. Defense is too devoid of talent to not have him on the field.

But great read as usually from you. Needs more gifs though. Wink


Base refers to a 7 man front group. Nickel refers to a 6 man front group

SSDE and WSDE are only present in the base defense and are determined by the strength of the formation which is almost always determined by where the TE is. SSDE is on the TE side, WSDE is on the opposite side. For some reaosn it's become common when talking about positions to act as though the TE is always on the offenses right side. So our LDE is our SSDE in those conversations. Our LDE goes up against their RT typically because sides are mirrored over the ball.

Daniels will get his reps, no doubt about it. I could see 80% of snaps if Jones doesn't ball out.


So do you not view Daniels on the same level as Clay? I think if both are healthy for a whole season they would grade out fairly similar.
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