There were a couple of surprises during the first day of the Green Bay Packers’ OTAs open to the public.
Ryan Pickett, who’s played defensive tackle his entire career, was lining up at defensive end with the Packers’ starting defense. Last year’s first-round pick B.J. Raji took Pickett’s place at nose tackle.
Whether the move is permanent remains to be seen, but Raji seems to be much better suited for the nose tackle spot. Last season, when the Packers were using Raji at defensive end, one NFL scout said just that.
“I am totally blown away about why the Packers are trying to play (B.J.) Raji at end instead of nose tackle. If they thought they had a nose, why did they draft Raji in the top 10 to play him out of position? It makes no sense to me. If they think those positions are interchangeable, I’ve got news for them — they are not.”
While the move may be an attempt to optimize the effectiveness of Raji, it could also be a move of necessity. Pickett lined up at left defensive end, a position occupied by Johnny Jolly last season. Jolly hasn’t signed his restricted free agent tender and hasn’t reported to Green Bay. In addition to that, there’s a good possibility Jolly may be suspended for four games by the NFL after being charged with possession of 200 grams of codeine in 2008. Jolly goes on trial later this week.
Pickett wasn’t crazy about the move at first, but is being the good soldier and team leader he’s always been.
“At first, I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t like it,’ but then I started thinking they’re right,” Pickett said after Wednesday’s practice. “I can actually play either one, and I think B.J. will be a great nose. … I thought about it, and I said, ‘All right, it’s cool. I’ll do whatever I can to help the team.’ So that’s why I’m at end.”
Raji and Cullen Jenkins will be the down linemen on passing downs and overall, the Packers look to have a pretty solid defensive line rotation with second-round pick Mike Neal and Jolly, when he returns, adding to the mix.
The other surprising move — and when I say I’m surprised, I really mean I’m dumbfounded — was Brady Poppinga lining up ahead of Brad Jones at left outside linebacker.
It’s not just that Jones was inserted as the starter after Aaron Kampman tore his ACL last season, it’s that Poppinga is terrible. The Packers have given Poppinga opportunities as a pass rusher — the primary role of an outside linebacker in the 3-4 — in the past and he’s failed miserably. Beyond that, Poppinga has never demonstrated the ability to cover anyone.
It’s possible Poppinga’s elevation is just the Packers’ coaches way of making a statement to Jones. It’s entirely possible Jones isn’t in the shape the Packers want him in and the coaching staff wants him to know the starting spot isn’t going to be handed to him.
However, if the Packers go into the season with Poppinga as a starter, or even seeing substantial playing time, the defense could be in real trouble.
No matter how good the defensive line is, they’re not going to make up for the lack of an NFL-caliber starter at outside linebacker.