Mike Neal

Mike Neal is part of the answer.

A lot of people seem to think the Green Bay Packers have a hole to fill on their defensive line, with defensive end [intlink id="163" type="category"]Cullen Jenkins[/intlink] expected to depart in free agency and [intlink id="205" type="category"]Johnny Jolly[/intlink] making stupid decisions somewhere in Houston.

 

Football Outsiders named defensive line as the team’s biggest post-draft hole and several experts suggested it was the Packers’ biggest need going into the draft.

While I’m sure the Packers would have loved to add someone other than seventh-round pick [intlink id="1628" type="category"]Lawrence Guy[/intlink] during the draft, it’s all relative.

Those clamoring for the Packers to address the position clearly don’t understand the Packers. Under [intlink id="20" type="category"]Ted Thompson[/intlink] and [intlink id="67" type="category"]Mike McCarthy[/intlink], the team has always chosen to rely on young, often untested players they’ve drafted and developed instead of reaching for players in the draft or overpaying a free agent.

They look more than content to do that with with the defensive line this season, and we don’t blame them. The defensive line may look inexperienced, but there’s considerable talent waiting in the wings.

[intlink id="1033" type="category"]Mike Neal[/intlink], a 2010 second-round pick, showed both power and speed before succumbing to a season-ending shoulder injury after playing in only two games his rookie year. Neal is the favorite to take over for Jenkins at right defensive end, with holdovers [intlink id="252" type="category"]Ryan Pickett[/intlink] manning the left side and [intlink id="473" type="category"]B.J. Raji[/intlink], who should find himself in the Pro Bowl soon, holding down the nose tackle spot.

Neal has the tools to be a legitimate pass rush threat, much like Jenkins, if he can stay healthy.

If, for some reason, Neal can’t perform, another second-year player is ready to step in. [intlink id="1042" type="category"]C.J. Wilson[/intlink], a seventh-round pick, played in 15 regular-season games and started one as a rookie when the Packers defensive line was ravaged by injuries to Jenkins and Pickett.

Wilson played better than expected, showing awareness and an ability to get into the offensive backfield. As a testament to his improvement, the Packers coaching staff used Wilson more as the season went on, even starting him in the Super Bowl.

He may not turn into a top-of-the-line starter, but Wilson at least has the look of a very solid contributor in the defensive line rotation. Of course, if he continues to improve, the Packers may groom Wilson as the eventual replacement for Pickett, who turns 32 in October.

In Guy, the Packers drafted someone who fits their 3-4 system and could contribute during his rookie season. He won’t do anything to replace Jenkins’ pass-rush ability, but at 6-5, 300, Guy, a three-year starter at Arizona State, should become a solid gap-filling defensive end.

That says nothing of seven-year vet [intlink id="1337" type="category"]Howard Green[/intlink], who played a crucial role in the defensive line rotation after being plucked off waivers, or Jarius Wynn, who earned more playing time as the season went on.

The solution to make up for the loss of Jenkins and Jolly may not yet be obvious, but it’s on the roster. If the Packers didn’t think it were, Ted Thompson would have done something before now to address it.

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