With Sam Shields locked up for the next four years, it’s time to focus on the Packers other free agents.
News of the Packers offering B.J. Raji a short-term contract to return as the team’s nose tackle brought out all kinds of reactions. Many Packers fans want nothing to do with Raji after he fell off the face of the earth midway through last season.
Other Packers fans are willing to stick with Raji if all it takes a relatively cheap, low-risk one-year deal.
I’m in the latter category. There is rarely such a thing as a bad one-year contract. If Raji flops again next season, you’re not tied to him long-term. If he’s horrible in training camp, and a good portion of the contract isn’t guaranteed, the Packers can just cut him.
That might make me sound like a Raji defender, but I am anything but. There were several times in the second half of last season where I wanted Ted Thompson to enter the Packers defensive huddle and cut Raji on the spot. He was that bad.
One talking point from Raji defenders that drives me crazy is the notion that it’s his job to “occupy blockers” so the middle linebackers can make plays. Yes, often in a 3-4 defense, it is the job of the defensive lineman to absorb double teams and sacrifice a little bit of personal glory to free up teammates.
But most people don’t understand what “occupying blockers” really means. It doesn’t mean you stand there and belly bump with other fat guys. It doesn’t mean you simply take up space. It doesn’t mean you never get to make a tackle for a loss or pressure the quarterback.
It definitely doesn’t mean you end up on your backside or blown off the ball like Raji is all too often.
The best way to “occupy blockers” is to kick their ass, to win your match-up, whether it’s against a single offensive lineman or a double team. Knock your man back a step and force the running back to alter his course, even if it’s a minor detour. Anchor yourself in the hole. Split that double team.
A 3-4 defensive lineman who does that often enough will get a tackle behind the line or a sack every now and then. He’ll also be doing a fine job of “occupying blockers.”