Jolly’s suspension forces movement among defensive linemen
Perhaps anticipating that Jolly was in line to miss a significant amount of time, the Packers moved former nose tackle Ryan Pickett to defensive end in the offseason. He is expected to pair with Cullen Jenkins at end in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme while one of last year’s first-round picks, B.J. Raji, takes over as the primary nose tackle.
Jenkins said Jolly will be missed, but the defensive line still can be a source of strength for a team that was No. 1 against the run last season.
“We’re still confident,” Jenkins said. “Johnny is going to be tough to replace this year. Everybody across the board is going to have to step up and do a little extra. We have good guys on the team, it’s just going to be a matter of everybody trying to get better.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he was surprised that Jolly, who can apply for reinstatement after the Super Bowl, will miss the whole season.
“It is something that the league has judged on,” McCarthy said. “I’m more concerned for Johnny on a personal note because he has got (a) battle in front of him here with his legal situation.”
Jolly is facing drug charges in Houston after his July 2008 arrest outside a club for possession of at least 200 grams of codeine. If convicted, Jolly faces up to 20 years in prison.
The Packers also drafted a pair of defensive lineman, second-rounder Mike Neal and seventh-rounder C.J. Wilson. Jarius Wynn, a sixth-rounder last year, could be in the mix. And former first-round pick Justin Harrell might finally be healthy after a disheartening series of injuries.
But Pickett remains Plan A. What will be the toughest part about his transition?
“Probably not being able to eat as much,” Jenkins quipped.
Kidding aside, Jenkins said Pickett will need to get used to new techniques and responsibilities.
“It’s a lot different,” Jenkins said. “On the inside at nose, everything is quick. Contact is quick, you’re getting into stuff right now. At end, it’s usually a step or two reading before you get to do stuff. Sometimes the lateral schemes are a lot faster, you have a lot more space for people to get an advantage on you.”
Pickett, a close friend of Jolly’s, said he will be tough to replace.
“It’s going to be a tough job,” Pickett said. “But we have the guys, and we should be all right.”
Pickett said he dropped weight in the offseason and is in better shape than he ever has been in coming into camp.
“I took the switch seriously,” Pickett said. “I wanted to be a little lighter and move a little better at end.”
The most intriguing end behind Jenkins and Pickett is Harrell, the team’s first-round pick in 2007.
He has played in only 13 regular season games in three seasons because of injuries, spending last season on injured reserve because of a back injury that dates back to before the 2008 season.
“It’s an important camp for Justin,” McCarthy said. “He knows that. We all know that. We’re excited that he’s finally healthy. That’s a frustrating place to be as a player when you have back-to-back injuries and things that keep you out, especially with the expectations of being a first-round pick. I’m just happy for him to be healthy and just want to see him stack some practices together, have some success.”
Harrell said he’s doing everything he can to prevent his back from flaring up. But he isn’t looking too far down the road, because he knows there’s no way to be sure he’ll stay injury-free.
“It’s one of those things with the back that I’ve learned over the past is I’m feeling good when I go to bed at night then wake up and can’t even walk,” Harrell said.
Jolly’s absence has created an opportunity for everyone on the defensive line—but that’s most true for Harrell, who might not stick around unless he can put his injury problems behind him.
“You’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity you get,” Harrell said.