Expectations will be high for Packers second-round draft choice Jerel Worthy, perhaps not as high as first-round pick Nick Perry, but high nonetheless.
The Packers traded up to make Worthy the 51st overall selection in the 2012 Draft, which only made the expectations higher because general manager Ted Thompson thought enough of the Michigan State defensive lineman to give up a fourth-round draft choice in the process.
And to take it one step further, Worthy will likely play an even bigger role now that free agent signee Tony Hargrove and holdover Mike Neal have been suspended by the NFL, subject to appeal in the case of Hargrove.
Hargrove was initially suspended the first eight games of the 2012 regular season for his part in the New Orleans Saints bounty program when he played for them in 2009 and 2010. Neal’s suspension is for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Both players can take part in the Packers’ offseason program, OTAs, minicamp, training camp and preseason games. Their suspension begins once preparations begin for Week 1 of the regular season.
The suspensions to Hargrove and Neal make Worthy’s development even more critical to the Packers’ success in 2012 as the rookie will probably have to play a bigger role earlier in the season than he perhaps would have otherwise.
That means defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, head coach Mike McCarthy and the rest of the Packers coaching staff will have to take the kid gloves off when preparing Worthy for the rigors of the NFL.
My first impression of Worthy in the immediate aftermath of his selection was that he’d probably play a role as a pass-rush specialist early in his rookie year. He’d be the type of guy that would be a play defensive tackle in the nickel and dime subpackages.
That was before I gave much thought to the suspensions of Neal and Hargrove. Without their services, Worthy could very likely play a larger role in the base 3-4 defense than he perhaps would have if the suspended duo were available.
Worthy will still have to earn his playing time as a rookie, but if he shows even a sliver of the talent he showed in college, it won’t be especially difficult to see playing time ahead of the likes of Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and fellow rookie Mike Daniels.
The Packers will have to rely upon Worthy early, giving him lots of repetitions during the offseason and training camp in order to get him ready for Week 1 when the Packers host the San Francisco 49ers.
And if Worthy is up to the challenge, he might be able to hold off Neal and Hargrove for playing time once they come back from suspension as well, perhaps even allowing the Packers to cut ties with them.