Replacing Raji could take 3 Packers to all step up
Experience is the key factor that could give former Viking Letroy Guion an edge over his competition at the spot -- but Josh Boyd and Mike Pennel will also likely play a role in filling the void left with nose tackle B.J. Raji out for the season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Replacing B.J. Raji won’t be easy, but the Green Bay Packers are confident they have the right pieces to minimize the loss of their starting nose tackle.
Raji’s torn right biceps will sideline him for the entire season. It’s terrible timing for Raji given that he signed a one-year deal this offseason to remain in Green Bay, especially considering that the 2009 first-round pick was playing so well in training camp.
The regular season is 10 days away, though, so the Packers are currently interviewing internal candidates to see who deserves the job.
"I think we’ve got some options," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We’re going to have to see who steps up and takes advantage of the opportunity."
It helps the situation significantly that Green Bay finally got Letroy Guion on the field for the first time in training camp. The Packers signed Guion this offseason with the intention of having the former Minnesota Viking be Raji’s backup. In Monday’s practice, Guion got his first chance at taking over Raji’s role.
"It’s always an emergency when a man goes down," Guion said. "It makes me have to step up, having to be that guy. So I’m going to take all my steps forward to do what I’ve got to do to get prepared."
Guion suffered a hamstring injury one week before training camp while working out in Green Bay, and that cost him nearly a full month of practices and three preseason games. But his six years of NFL experience with Minnesota should help him get ready faster compared to how that much time off would set back a younger player.
"I’m very confident," Guion said. "I’m very skilled, very talented at the position down there. So I’m going to just go out there and do what I’ve got to do."
Experience is the key factor that could give Guion an edge over his competition at the spot.
When Raji was injured in Friday’s preseason hand against Oakland, it was second-year pro Josh Boyd who replaced him. Though nose tackle isn’t Boyd’s natural position, head coach Mike McCarthy believes that the team’s 2013 fifth-round pick can use versatility to his advantage.
"I wouldn’t really classify Josh as an end," McCarthy said. "If you want to get into putting players into specific roles, body types, he can play 3-technique and actually has done well at the nose. I think he’ll be fine in there."
Another option to step in for Raji is undrafted rookie Mike Pennel, who is a nose tackle by trade. Before Raji’s injury, he praised Pennel for having "overpowering strength" and nicknamed him "Baby Haynesworth" because of similarities to Albert Haynesworth, the two-time first-team All-Pro.
"Mike has done a good job with his opportunities, McCarthy said. "I thought he had some big-time plays in the game with Oakland and he had some plays where you can see his youth. He just needs to be more experienced in the technical aspect of it. Mike’s getting better."
Capers also noted that he’s seen "some flashes" from Pennel in the preseason.
Whether it’s Guion, Boyd, Pennel or some combination of the three of them, the Packers need it to work out well in order for their defense not to suffer without Raji.
"B.J. has been such an anchor in there, particularly the way we’ve approached defense this year," McCarthy said. "So I’m counting on someone to step up."