Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How The Packers Defensive Line Will Look Next Season Without Mike Pennel

It was announced last week that the Green Bay Packers will be without DT Mike Pennel for at least the first four games of the 2016 season because he violated the NFL's substance abuse program.
After the defense put together a terrible 2013 season, Mike McCarthy made some changes that brought more versatility to the group. One change was the departure of NT Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji was switched from end to NT. They also brought in free agents Letroy Guion and Julius Peppers, and Peppers in particular brought a lot more versatility with him. Often during that 2013 season, the Packers looked slow up front when Raji and Pickett were lined up together, and those changes gave the defense more options.

In 2015, Raji and Pennel played on 444 and 287 snaps, respectively, and they rarely lined up together, so the defense only had one tackle at least 30% of the time. While the NT isn't very important to their defense, they still need a couple of big bodies for the goal line.

With Datone Jones likely moving to outside linebacker next season, it seems like the Packers have abandoned the idea of having any defensive ends at all. Apparently it's all tackles and outside linebackers going forward. That would fit with their goal of versatility because their linebackers can be defensive ends on passing downs, effectively using a 4-3 defensive scheme.

They probably need only four defensive tackles next season. Daniels and Guion have already been re-signed, and Pennel should return after his suspension (assuming he makes the team). DT Josh Boyd should be healthy after a season ending ankle injury, though he's never been very good, and rookie DT Christian Ringo made a "big-time" jump last season. Re-signing Raji might push Boyd or Ringo out of their plans, or maybe Guion will replace Raji since Guion's legal problems appear to be over. In any case, it doesn't look like they have a need for an outside free agent or high draft choice. Maybe a late draft choice like USC's Antwaun Woods could provide some depth. Woods might be a good fit because he doesn't have a history of injuries and he hustles, and he could play the same role that Ringo did last season on the practice squad.

While Pennel's suspension doesn't help them next season, it doesn't look like they'll have to adjust their offseason plans in free agency or the draft to make up for his absence either.

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