The defensive line will be a position of intense scrutiny in this training camp, as the Packers try to fortify a position at which it often employed only two men in “nickel” situations last season.
Second-round draft pick Jerel Worthy is considered to be the prized addition of the offseason, but there are other newcomers to the Packers roster, including free agents Anthony Hargrove, Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling, and fourth-round draft pick Mike Daniels.
The main question on the defensive line for a defense that fell to No. 32 in sacks per pass play last season is: Can the Packers find a defensive lineman that can add something to the pass rush? Packers defensive linemen registered only six sacks, three each by nose tackle B.J. Raji and defensive end Jarius Wynn, last season.
Worthy would seem to be the hope for the future. Hargrove is an accomplished defensive lineman who adds pass-rush potential, but he’s facing an eight-game suspension for his part in the Saints’ “Bountygate.” Merling is a former first-round pick who’s attempting to reclaim his career. Mike Neal, a second-round pick in 2010, is attempting a comeback from a season compromised by a knee injury, but Neal will miss the first four games of this season due to a suspension for violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Candidates on the defensive line are many. Who might emerge? It’s one of the critical questions of this training camp.
Raji and defensive end Ryan Pickett are the main holdovers. Raji’s production might’ve fallen victim to overuse in 2011, and Muir might help fix that problem by sharing the load. Pickett has been a solid run stuffer for the Packers, but he went sackless last season at age 32.
Young veterans Wynn and C.J. Wilson divided time at the other end position. Johnny Jones is a holdover from the practice squad. Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick in 2011, spent last season on injured reserve.
The Packers will take 12 defensive linemen to training camp. They had 10 on their training camp roster last season.