Feel free to imagine a Michael Buffer voice…
In the red corner, we have the veteran from Houston, Texas. He has five years of NFL experience and is 30 years old. At 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 325 lbs., he’s Green Bay’s own “J.J. Swat” … his name is JOHNNY JOLLY!
Over in the blue corner, we have the rookie from Philadelphia, Mississippi. He’s 24 years old and preparing for his first season of professional football. Measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 310 lbs., he rode to Titletown on the SEC Express … he’s JOSH BOYD!
Okay, perhaps hyping up Johnny Jolly and Josh Boyd as a one-on-one prizefight is a bit unfair. In reality, they’re competing with players from every position for one of 53 spots on the Packers’ regular season roster.
But it’s extremely difficult to see the Packers keep any more than seven defensive linemen on their roster this season, and even seven would seem to be pushing the limit for a team that––more often than not––utilizes only two defensive linemen on the field at any one time.
Green Bay would appear to have six defensive linemen that are near locks for roster spots. First round draft choice Datone Jones is obviously one of them. Veterans B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett are also set in stone.
Beyond the top three, C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels are all good bets to be part of the defensive line rotation. That leaves Jolly and Boyd competing for a seventh spot on the Packers defensive line.
No doubt about it, an injury can change the complexion of the entire Packers roster in a moment’s notice. But assuming no major injuries occur between now and the end of training camp, especially on the defensive line, there are precious few jobs up for grabs.
Ever since coming off his three-year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and returning to Green Bay, Jolly has been on an upward trend. He’s gone from simply trying to get into shape to subtly doing a solid job to making impact plays in this past Saturday night’s preseason game.
After having a hand in two turnover-generating plays against the St. Louis Rams––an interception and a batted pass that led to an interception––Jolly is demonstrating that he can he can shake off the rust to be a force once more in the NFL.
At the very least, Jolly is making a decision extremely difficult on head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson whether to take a chance on the formerly imprisoned defender.
The question is, can they afford to keep Jolly, who’s currently playing under a one-year contract, at the expense of a much younger Boyd, who’s under team control for the next four seasons?
There’s always the chance the Packers could try to stash Boyd on their practice squad, but if they cut him, they’re taking a risk. They’d be gambling that no other team extends him an invitation to their 53-man roster, a situation where Boyd would essentially be lost and gone forever.
In keeping Jolly, the Packers will be banking that his troubles are behind him, that he’s matured and won’t break the team’s trust. They’ll also be looking for him to be a playmaker. You can bet your bottom dollar they’re not going to keep Jolly to linger as one of the mandatory seven players inactive on regular season game days.
The Packers can afford such a luxury with Boyd. He’s a promising but raw prospect, but also one they can allow him to develop until he’s ready for the bight lights of primetime.
Or is there a way to actually keep both Jolly and Boyd on the roster?
One way would be to keep eight defensive linemen on the roster, an almost unheard of number for a team employing a 3-4 defensive system. But then again, this is a coaching staff that has kept three fullbacks and five tight ends over the past few seasons.
By keeping only three true outside linebackers on the roster, Neal could be the de facto fourth outside linebacker if he’s able to pull off a hybrid type of role.
The Packers could also make sacrifices at other positions on the roster, such as keeping only three halfbacks or five wide receivers or three safeties.
Or they could make the difficult decision of cutting or trading one of the other defensive linemen, like Wilson or Daniels or Neal. Such a situation seems unlikely, but maybe not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Whatever eventually happens, the Packers are working from a position of power. Being too deep on the defensive line is certainly more enviable than being too thin.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.