Next up on our series examining the Packers roster heading into training will be a position group that needs to make a considerable step forward this fall.
When a team uses it's first round draft choice on a position, it's a pretty good sign help is needed. That is certainly the case for the Green Bay defensive line. Datone Jones of UCLA, the 26th overall pick in April, is expected to give this unit an immediate jolt of production. Judging from the way he conducted himself during the spring workouts, his help can't come fast enough. Jones could immediately be plugged in as the starting left defensive end. Ryan Pickett, at 33, is now the eldest statesman on the roster, entering his 13th NFL season. For a big man, he's held up very well and is still an effective run plugger, better suited to work inside, than on the end. B.J. Raji had his best year in 2010 with 66 tackles and 6 and a half sacks. He missed two games last year and managed only 46 tackles, without a sack. Raji knows he should be hitting his prime in year five. C.J. Wilson blossomed a bit last year as he started a career best seven games at right defensive end, posting career highs in tackles with 37 and two and a half sacks. He's got to stay healthy after suffering groin and knee injuries. This is also a big year for Jerel Worthy, a former second round pick. He was also bothered by injuries and the knee injury in the regular season finale has kept him sidelined through the off-season. He's an excitable player who can still provide some energy to the unit. Putting an injury history and NFL suspension behind him, Mike Neal worked his way into the rotation as the season wore on until a shoulder injury in week 13. He's too big and strong to ignore. Last year's rookie surprise might have been Mike Daniels of Iowa. On the short side, he plays with big effort and had a blast with his fumble recovery touchdown against the Lions. The Packers drafted a second lineman in the draft this year, Josh Boyd of Mississippi State in the 5th round. A 310 pounder, Boyd could find his way onto the roster as the backup nose tackle. Two free agents in the mix are Gilbert Pena and Jordan Miller who was on the practice squad and appeared in one game last season. Finally, the most intriguing question regarding this group concerns Johnny Jolly. Can he make the comeback after being away for three years battling drug and legal issues? I have to admit, Jolly arrived in town in much better condition than I expected. He did all the right things and said all the right things and while it still might be too much to ask, I won't be surprised if Jolly is among the final six or seven at the position who dress for opening day against the 49ers.