10

August

Rooting for Johnny Jolly and Rehabilitation

Johnny Jolly vs. Arizona Cardinals

Johnny Jolly displays some playmaking ability against the Arizona Cardinals in preseason action.

I have never had first-hand experiences with drugs or drug abuse. I’m proud to say that not once in my life have I ever used tobacco products, smoked pot, or used illegal drugs. I’m also thankful to say that I am surrounded by family and friends who don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. So on a personal level, I don’t fully understand the struggles that drug addicts in PA, NJ or any state deal with on a daily basis; however, I do know about them. And I understand it’s not an easy battle to fight.

Johnny Jolly’s story is well known among Green Bay Packers fans and most NFL fans. He was drafted by the Packers in 2006 during the sixth round, and it didn’t take long for him to prove that he was a steal at that spot. Unfortunately, he was arrested for codeine possession on July 8, 2008. Charges were dismissed soon after, stemming from the police obtaining new drug measuring equipment, yet they were refiled in December 2009.

Two years after his initial arrest, with Jolly’s trial finally approaching, the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Jolly was arrested again on Match 25, 2011, for possession of and intent to distribute 600 grams of codeine. That November he was sentenced to six years of prison for violation of his probation.

Six months later, Johnny Jolly was granted early release with a1 0-year shock probation, and almost a year later he was granted reinstatement to the NFL. Now, three years after his suspension, he is back with the Green Bay Packers, rehabilitated and fighting for his career.

Fans have responded to his personal and legal problems with a wide mixture of opinion and support. There was plenty of initial frustration with him throwing his life and promising career away simply for drugs and “purple drank.” There was compassion by some for his addiction, because they knew it’s not an easy thing to deal with. There was rejection by those who felt Jolly wasn’t taking responsibility for his actions, especially after the second arrest.

But now there seems to be a lot of growing support for his rehabilitation and a spot on the team.

FIGHTING DRUG ADDICTION

30

July

Datone Jones has “The Juice” the Packers Have Been Looking For at DL

Packers first-round pick Datone Jones will be asked to play a big role as a rookie. Is he ready to be a starter?

The Real Deal – Datone Jones

The Green Bay Packers were 15-1 during the 2011 regular season, a truly monumental feat considering their defense was ranked last in the NFL as well as worst in the team’s history. After a quick exit in the playoffs against the Giants,  one thing has been stuck front and center in Ted Thompson’s mind; find some defensive linemen that are more than just space eaters.

After the shock of that loss wore off, there was plenty of talk from the Packers defensive coaches during the early spring of 2012 about needing some “juice” out of the defensive line. Basically, finding a guy or two that can be more of a disruptor than a “hold your ground” guy. Someone who can collapse the pocket from the inside and help the Packers pathetic pass rush. Thompson has been trying ever since.

In March of 2012, Thompson took the unusual path (for him) of bringing in a few free agents, albeit low-risk gambles like Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir. He followed that up by drafting Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels a month later and then signing yet another free agent in May, Philip Merling.

Referring to the free agents,  Hargrove showed little and was cut in camp. Daniel Muir had a surprisingly impressive training camp and was somewhat of a surprise cut on the final week.  Merling stuck around until Mike Neal returned from his 4 game suspension and then was cut. No juice attained from those three.

The draft picks were a mixed bag. I wasn’t a fan of the Worthy draft pick myself, and he played to my expectations. If he has the will, the effort or the juice, he sure didn’t show it before landing on injured reserve.  Mike Daniels was a pleasant surprise – I knew little of him other than he was undersized at 6’0″ and had been quite productive rushing the passer from inside at Iowa. Making the jump to the NFL, the massive offenive linemen he has to deal with on a consistent basis  limits the impact Daniels is able to make at this level. However, used in the right situations, he brought a little juice with his quickness and got some pressure on the quarterback. He’s  just not the every-down player the Packers need.

23

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #2 — Defensive Line Depth

Packers first-round pick Datone Jones will be asked to play a big role as a rookie. Is he ready to be a starter?

Packers first-round pick Datone Jones will be asked to play a big role as a rookie. Is he ready to be a starter?

When the Green Bay Packers took the field against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, they did so with just five defensive linemen: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal.

This offseason, the Packers have a mess of defensive linemen, competing for six or seven roster spots. Raji, Pickett, Wilson, Daniels, Neal and Jerel Worthy return to the team this year, along new competition from 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, fifth-round pick Josh Boyd and Johnny Jolly.

With nine defensive linemen competing for spots on the 53-man roster, it’s a foregone conclusion that some players will be let go.

Last year, the Packers kept six defensive linemen: Raji, Pickett, Wilson, Worthy, Daniels and Phillip Merling. Merling only played in three regular-season games, as Neal was forced to serve a four-game suspension to start the season.

The Packers may very well have a similar situation this offseason with Worthy. Coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 16 of last season, Worthy seems like a candidate to begin the season on the PUP list. If that’s the case, it seems likely that the Packers would, again, keep six linemen before making a decision on who is let go once Worthy returns.

Throughout OTAs, the Packers wanted to get a look at Neal at outside linebacker. And earlier this month on Packers Central, hosted by Zach Kruse and me, Worthy said there’s reason to be excited about Neal standing up.

“All I can say about Mike Neal moving to outside linebacker is look out,” Worthy said. “That’s all I can say. There’s about to be some hell to pay for whoever has to deal with him.”

Whether Neal plays as a true outside linebacker or as an interior pass rusher, it’s clear the team views him as one of its most talented pass rushers. And towards the end of the season, Neal may have been the team’s second-most efficient pass rusher after Clay Matthews.

With a deeper group of defensive linemen this season, players who specialize in the pass-rush department may be able to focus on that more than in years past. Raji and Pickett will assume two starting spots, and the third spot will likely come down to Jones or Wilson.

4

May

Packers Defensive Line Entering Big Contract Year

Packers defensive linemen Neal, Wilson, and Pickett are all set to become free agents in 2014.

Packers defensive linemen Neal, Wilson, and Pickett are all set to become free agents in 2014.

In the wake of the Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews contract extensions, many of us have been wondering how the Green Bay Packers will utilize their remaining cap space. How they use it will depend a lot on the current players who will be free agency following this season. Not counting the recent restricted free agent tenders and offseason signings, there are a total of fourteen Packers players entering their final year of a multi-year contract.

One of the major concerns, though, is that four of those players – or over a quarter of them – are defensive linemen. And not just any defensive lineman. They accounted for 38 starts, 51 total games played, and 2,108 defensive snaps in 2012. Take a look:

  • Ryan Pickett, DT, 33, 13th yr.
    (2012: 16 starts, 16 games, 658 snaps – 2nd DL, 3.8 PFF grade – 2nd DL)
  • B.J. Raji, DT, 26, 5th yr.
    (2012: 14 starts, 14 games, 768 snaps – 1st DL, 6.5 PFF grade – 1st DL)
  • Mike Neal, DE, 25, 4th yr.
    (2012: 0 starts, 10 games, 323 snaps – 5th DL, 3.4 PFF grade – 3rd DL)
  • C.J. Wilson, DE, 26, 4th yr.
    (2012: 8 starts, 11 games, 359 – 4th DL, -2.1 PFF grade – 6th DL)

Obviously, Pickett and Raji are the two biggest names to be worried about. They are the workhorses of the defensive line and pretty much have been since their first years in Green Bay. Neal and Wilson aren’t every-down players, but they’ve proven their worth and could still show some improvement.

Unfortunately, the contract situations of these players are being pressured by multiple forces. Ted Thompson has drafted four defensive linemen in the past two drafts, who could each be major players: Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Josh Boyd. (There’s also Jordan Miller and Gilbert Pena looming in the shadows.) But in addition to the performance pressures, there are also going to be financial ones. Some other big-name players are going to be hitting the market in 2014, as well. Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, James Jones, and Marshall Newhouse are all going into their final contract year, plus Evan Dietrich-Smith and Sam Shields are currently on restricted free agent tenders that last just a year.

27

April

Packers 2013 NFL Draft: Day 3 Grade and Analysis

UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin

UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin

Entering the final day of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers were slated to make ten selections. But when it was all said and done, the Packers added only nine players to the team.

Their first two selections of the day were offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter.

Bakhtiari was a three-year starter at Colorado, and I had a late-second to early-third round grade on him entering the draft. He was a tackle at the college level but will probably play guard at the NFL level. The Packers drafted Bakhtiari with pick No. 109 in the fourth round.

Tretter started at left tackle the past two seasons at Cornell. He was a unanimous All-Ivy League First Team selection as a senior after beginning his college career as a tight end. He was a high school quarterback. With the Packers, Tretter will likely play on the interior of the offensive line.

Later in round four, Ted Thompson continued his trading ways by moving up for UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin.

Many scouts thought Franklin would be a second-round pick, and some even had Franklin and Eddie Lacy as the top two players at the position. My final rankings had Franklin as the No. 2 back in the draft, just ahead of Lacy and behind Giovani Bernard who was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals at the top of the second round.

It was my belief that Franklin would be a better fit for the Packers offense than Lacy. But now that the Packers have both young backs, the running game should be vastly improved in 2013.

After making UCLA defensive end Datone Jones their first selection of the draft, the Packers went with four straight offensive players: two linemen and two running backs.

But in the fifth and sixth round, the Packers went back to the defensive side of the ball by selecting Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde, Mississippi State defensive end Josh Boyd and Illinois State outside linebacker Nate Palmer.

Hyde faces an uphill battle to earn regular playing time at cornerback, perhaps the Packers’ deepest position, but his versatility and ability to play special teams could help him crack the 53-man roster. Boyd will be a part of the team’s defensive line competition come training camp. Palmer started his college career at Illinois before transferring to Illinois State; he racked up 17 sacks his past two seasons at Illinois State and led the country in quarterback hits in 2012.

26

April

Packers 2013 NFL Draft: Day 1 Grade and Analysis

Packers DE Datone Jones

Packers DE Datone Jones

The first 32 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft are in the books, and the Packers struck gold (and baby blue?) by grabbing UCLA defensive end Datone Jones at No. 26.

Jones was a popular pick among mock drafts, and he was my selection for the Packers in my final mock draft released Thursday. At 6’4″ 283 pounds, Jones has the frame to add another 10-15 pounds and be a difference-maker on the defensive line early in his career.

But when the Packers were on the clock, Jones wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer. A number of players at positions of need were on the board, including defensive linemen Jesse Williams and Sylvester Williams, safeties Jonathan Cyprien and Matt Elam, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

The team’s two biggest needs are/were at safety and on the defensive line. So rather than go with a luxury pick like Patterson, the Packers opted to go with the more glaring need by taking Jones.

A year ago, the Packers addressed the defensive line by taking Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy in the second round and Iowa’s Mike Daniels in the fourth. Worthy suffered a torn ACL late in 2012 and may miss a large chuck, or perhaps all, of the 2013 season. And with Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson set to hit free agency after this season, the selection of Jones gives the team some flexibility along the line.

What they’re saying:

“Because Green Bay plays a 3-4 defense, this kid is an ideal fit. I love this kid’s upside. He fits the scheme. He’s the only one I saw who beat Eric Fisher all week long in one-on-one.” – Mike Mayock (via NFL.com)

“Datone is a very versatile player, played all up and down the line of scrimmage at UCLA. Really flourished in Coach Mora’s new system out there. We think he adds a lot of versatility to our group, should be able to fit in and help our group out.” – Ted Thompson (via PackersNews.com)

“I hate losing and I’m happy to come to an organization like Green Bay, with a winning tradition,” Jones said. “To be able to play at Lambeau Field is crazy. I’m so hyped up right now already. I just want to play.” – Datone Jones (via JSOnline)

18

April

2013 NFL Mock Draft: One week until Draft Day

UCLA DE Datone Jones

UCLA DE Datone Jones

One week until the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. That’s seven days. One-hundred and sixty-eight hours. However you want to look at it.

Last week, I posted a mock draft and said that I never project trades. But this time, I’m breaking one of my own rules because there’s one that simply makes too much sense.

Many picks remain unchanged from last week, but I’ve done some reshuffling starting at No. 5 overall with the Detroit Lions. You can expect something similar next week for my final mock draft before the action kicks off next Thursday night.

Enjoy and comment away.

1. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

(Last: Same) No surprise at the top for the Chiefs. It will likely be either Joeckel or Eric Fisher, but I have Joeckel rated slightly higher, due in part to playing against better competition at Texas A&M. They can move Branden Albert to right tackle and plug Joeckel in on Alex Smith’s blind side.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia

(Last: Same) It’s going to be Smith or Dion Jordan at No. 2 for the Jaguars. Between now and the draft, I’m sure there will be some rumors thrown out there that the Jags have their eye on other players, but don’t be fooled. If they’re comfortable with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, they’ll go with Jordan. I’m not a Gabbert guy.

3. Oakland Raiders: DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida

(Last: Same) Oakland would love to move down and add more picks. Of all the teams picking in the top ten, the Raiders would probably benefit the most from moving down several spots. They need a lot of help on every level of the defense, but if they can’t find a way to move down, Sharrif Floyd would have to be the pick. He’s an impact player from Day 1.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon

(Last: Same) The Eagles and Jaguars are closely related in terms of team colors, and Philadelphia’s pick will likely be determined by what Jacksonville does at No. 2. If the Jags take Geno Smith, then the Eagles get Dion Jordan. If the Jags take Jordan, the Eagles could very well take Smith and tab him as their quarterback of the future. I think Jordan is the best player in the draft.