Mike Pennel: What a Difference a Year Makes

Last season, Mike Pennel was just a guy. This season, he could be a disruptive force.

After an ugly preseason performance by the Green Bay Packers against the Philadelphia Eagles, it was initially hard to find positives from the on-field play.

However, after sitting back for a bit and letting things soak in, it's clear the sky is not falling. Many good things were put on tape for people to see.

One such positive I saw was the play of defensive lineman Mike Pennel. He's had a pretty good training camp so far, and his play against the Eagles really cemented that opinion. He's going to be counted upon to hold down the defensive line early this season while Letroy Guion serves his 3-game suspension and B.J. gets back into the swing of things after missing all of last year with a torn biceps.

Hopefully, he can develop into a disruptive force and improve upon his play from last season. I think he's on pace to do just that.

Entering this year, I really had my doubts if Pennel would be up to the task, but watching his performance against the Eagles erased all of those reservations. Sure, it was against second- and third-team lineman, but it was impressive nonetheless, and even more so because the score was out of hand and only pride was left to salvage.

He was hungry with something to prove. And he did.

Pennel flashed at times during last year's training camp, but he basically got lost in wash as the season went by. I wrote about it at the old ALLGBP site a while ago showing the Pennel was often guilty of getting pushed around and not holding the point of attack.

The pictures below show his typical performance from his game against the New England Patriots last winter. He's (64) playing between the center and left guard.

At the snap of the ball, he's stood up and driven back a yard.

To make matters worse, he gets in the way of linebacker Sam Barrington, allowing the running back to fall forward for a nice gain. That was only one play, but it was a microcosm of what we saw from him whenever he took the field. 

That was last year.

This year, he's better. What a difference a year makes.

Against the Eagles last week, he was disruptive as both a pass rusher and a run stopper.

The play below is one of Chip Kelly's signature combo passes with an outside outlet. The protection isn't the typical screen scheme that invites pass rushers up field, but rather depends on setting up a pocket.

Pennel is again lined up between the center and left guard.

As the play unfolds, he makes a nice push and is able to fight off the combo scrape block and engages the next level of protection. He gets 4 yards up field, which will disrupt some pass plays.

While he doesn't get to the quarterback, his hustle and push is a welcomed sight. To see such a big man, who's not going to be counted upon much in the pass rush, move through blocks is exciting.

The play below is the one that stuck out most for me and has me much less worried about the three games Guion is sitting out. Sure, it's still against second- and third-teamers, but making this type of play against them is still impressive.

Pennel is once again lined up between the center and the left guard. 

It's a running play to the boundary side away from him, but he shoots through the gap and tackles the ball carrier for a loss.

It doesn't get any better than that, even if it's not against the first-team squad.

Pennel came to the Packers last year as an undrafted free agent from Division II CSU-Pueblo. He's been a work in progress, but a year in the system as well as an NFL weight room has done wonders for him. He looks like a different player and reminds me of a man on a mission.

The Packers can certainly use that this season.

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Comments (25)

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Dan Stodola's picture

September 02, 2015 at 01:31 pm

Good to see he's putting his obvious talent to use. He's always been talented,it was just a matter of keeping a low center of gravity. Thru college he just played down to the competition when he should have dominated. Now refine the technique, and learn to be a professional and bring it every day, not just to earn a roster spot.

Maybe next year he can take over as a starter for Raji or Guion.

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Allan Murphy's picture

September 02, 2015 at 02:34 pm

Dan i think he can start now B.J has showing us nothing .........

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Jay Hodgson's picture

September 02, 2015 at 02:51 pm

Right on. Not sure why people voted your comment down.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 02, 2015 at 04:00 pm

Let us see who voted it down or up and this will issue will disappear or become more clear. I know, it is on the wish list.

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Spud Rapids's picture

September 02, 2015 at 02:08 pm

This is a testament to both Pennel working at his technique and Mike Trgovac. I wrote earlier about how hard it is to draft d-lineman so when those picks don't hit they do a great job of coaching up players to reach their full potential. Credit to TT for finding guys like Pennel, Boyd, Howard Green in the 2010 who make contributions.

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Brand New Hero's picture

September 02, 2015 at 06:09 pm

I am in no way disagreeing with your assessment here as I think you're spot on. But I would like to add to this notion...

D lineman typically take a year or two to develop with them reaching their potential in/around year 3. I don't know exactly why it is, but I've seen it many times. Point is, Pennel is reaching his potential much like Daniels did and Boyd is doing. It's fun to see, but also reminds me of all the recent D lineman we've missed on. Credit definitely goes to the coaches and organization for finding and developing these guys. I firmly believe that having a superior D line makes the rest of the defense play better.

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Allan Murphy's picture

September 02, 2015 at 02:30 pm

B.J R not showing his 2010 form Mike Pernnel looks like a starter to me . So B.J if your reading this you need to step your game up this last game or you could be the bench warmer this year .............

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Bearmeat's picture

September 02, 2015 at 02:54 pm

This is encouraging. Hopefully Pennel can make up a bit for the all-too-often TT front 7 busts.

If he continues to improve, Pennel/Daniels and ?? is a decent start to a young and talented DL.

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dobber's picture

September 02, 2015 at 03:17 pm

Maybe if TT shops only for offensive players in the draft and picks up all his defensive players from the UDFA scrap heap, we'd be making the most of those resources...

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dobber's picture

September 02, 2015 at 03:18 pm

This might add fuel to the thought that NT are made more than they are drafted/found.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 03, 2015 at 12:07 am

Wut?

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Clay's picture

September 02, 2015 at 03:55 pm

I don't feel so alone or humble about my opinion that Raji isn't that good regardless of where you line him up, and the fact that Pennel is an emerging player.

I think sometimes the Pack coaching staff is a bit slow to make certain changes (last year at middle linebacker for example), so we may see BJ out there to start the season, but Pennel will ultimately take over.

If both play great I will be surprised and overjoyed.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 03, 2015 at 12:22 am

"...Pack coaching staff is a bit slow to make certain changes.... Amen to that.

I go on anti-Raji rants occasionally, not because I don't think he is talented and capable of playing at a high level, but because I think he is a head-case who doesn't really like football.

I've been high on Pennel since his rookie TC, and have written that it is important for him to develop, in part because of my opinion of Raji and never wanting to give Raji a long term contract with big guaranteed money and concern over the quality of his back ups. Some are suggesting that Pennel can play DE. He might be able to do that some, but first let's have him settle in at NT.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 02, 2015 at 03:55 pm

Nice observation Jay. If you go to the preseason 2, you'll find he was the force who made Randall interception possible, he was all in face of Steelers back up QB... Also, he played against 1st stringer and helped a lot to stop Steelers ground game.As I fell "in love" with guy from watching his highlights, I'm monitoring how he plays. This year he finally starts to use his quickness. He is very fast in placing his hand on the OL, what helps him to recognize if play is run or pass and to work accordingly... He will be Packers DL stud (hope he will avoid heavy injury!)...

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lou's picture

September 02, 2015 at 04:43 pm

Barring injury he will get a solid chance to be a consistent contributor on the D-Line, hopefully he can be a BEAST (on one calf his tatoo says THE and on the other it says BEAST). It appears that he not only looks the part physically but can walk the walk. We have had others like Donnell Washington a Mike Sherman #2 pick who looked like Tarzan and played like Jane, and every ones first look at Crabtree was that he was the 2nd coming of Ron Kramer, turned out per Pro Football Focus he was a terrible blocker. If Pennel can do it, that also gives them leverage in re-signing Mike Daniels, I would love to see him come through.

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Brand New Hero's picture

September 02, 2015 at 06:17 pm

I'll have to rewatch the first couple series, but I'm pretty sure I saw him getting penetration and turning blockers against the first team O-line as well. He definitely gets push though and that disruptive nature will help out the linebackers immensely.

Also, great article! The only suggestion I have is to possibly use GIFs instead of pictures, but it was still a great read.

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Portland Mark's picture

September 02, 2015 at 07:53 pm

I read on the Packer site that the defense is only allowing 3.2 yards per rush this preseason. Pennel's play is part of the reason. After several seasons of not being able to stop the run, I am feeling better about the defense.

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dobber's picture

September 02, 2015 at 08:19 pm

I've said before: this is Raji's swan song in GB. Either he plays lackluster, uninspired ball and isn't invited back, or he plays well and prices himself off the GB radar. The emergence of someone like Pennel makes this much easier.

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RCPackerFan's picture

September 02, 2015 at 08:41 pm

Pennel definitely has taken a major step in year 2 so far.

Right now I think our starting DL should be Pennel, Raji, Daniels. Pennel next to Raji in the middle gives them a very stout DL to stop the run.
Pennel might eventually be our NT, but right now we have Raji and Guion that will be playing that role. Pennel has the size and speed for now to play outside.

Another player that I think has stood out so far has been Gaston. He has the ability to rush the QB, and seems to be stout against the run. With Guion and Jones serving suspensions that could give Gaston a chance to get some playing time.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 03, 2015 at 12:58 am

Reading it with care, I guess I agree. Right now means to me the first three games. I'd prefer not to mess with Pennel at DE but with the dearth of talent at DE he might be the best choice. I have Guion as the 2nd best DE behind Daniels, Pennel 3rd, and a drop off to Boyd/Jones, then Gaston/Ringo. Although Gaston is listed as an NT on the depth chart, he looks like a tweener to me - I'm thinking a 3 technique or maybe a 5 technique but w/o the lateral agility one would like to see at 5. Gaston might be better as a DT in a 4-3.

Boyd is on my bubble when Guion and Datone return from suspension. Daniels, Raji, Pennel are locks. Boyd, Ringo and Gaston are good bets until suspensions are served. Still time to evaluate Boyd since I expect him to play against Chicago, but he might not survive through Seattle and KC as Datone will bump someone. This assumes we keep 6 DL.

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porupack's picture

September 03, 2015 at 12:22 am

Thanks Jay for article, and appreciate the spotlight on Pennel. As you say, Pennel was mostly lined up against 3rd and 4th stringers, so it tempers expectations sufficiently. Glad he at least earns a chance in another week to really prove you right "a year makes a difference".

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croatpackfan's picture

September 03, 2015 at 06:21 am

Against Steelers he was against 1st OL... He won against Maurkice Pouncey ones, for more he had no chances as Pouncey was inured... So, it is not only against 2nd, 3rd and 4th stringers... He is guy who will play larger role in Packers DL this season!

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DrealynWilliams's picture

September 03, 2015 at 12:03 pm

3-3-5 with Pennel at DT/NT and BJ Raji/Mike Daniels or Mike Daniels/Julius Peppers at the DE will be dangerous.

I'm just sayin'...

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Tundraboy's picture

September 03, 2015 at 03:11 pm

Pennel stepping up is exactly the boost this D needs this year. I'm hoping he does the entire season

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Icebowler's picture

September 03, 2015 at 03:39 pm

I'm happy to see Pennel emerge. I think the Packers overreacted and went too light (weight wise) on the DL last year, which hurt the run defense.

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