One of the best parts of being a Packer fan is that we usually don’t have major disciplinary issues from the league. Ted Thompson has been a great judge of character in his tenure but this year two separate incidents have decimated the defensive line for the start of the season, and now it’s time for some young guys to step up.
The two guys who will miss the beginning of the season were both slated for big roles were Letroy Guion and Datone Jones. Guion had come off a career best season in his first year in green and gold, while Jones had shown more potential than production in his first two seasons, partly due to injuries. But Guion is facing a three game suspension pending appeal for an arrest earlier this year and Jones is gone for the first game against Chicago for a positive test for marijuana.
That leave the Packers looking at some young, unproven guys to step up. This is their chance to make a name for themselves, whether it will create a long term job for them in Green Bay or for another team once Guion and Jones return. We don’t know for sure who will step up but we have some ideas as we break down the top prospects for Week 1.
Josh Boyd has been working with the starters all offseason and in camp, and the third year lineman has progressed through his first two seasons but is still more of a two-down player. He is a solid run stuffer but struggles in pass rush, something that was a bright spot for Guion and the reason that Jones was drafted. But for one week Boyd can be effective with his strength and size.
Another option is second year nose tackle Mike Pennel. The big man has great size and a very similar skill set to BJ Raji with exceptional quickness and the ability to collapse the line. A highly touted college prospect who went undrafted due to some character concerns, he seems to have really matured under the tutelage of the coaching staff and has shined in both of his camps so far. He was also by far the brightest spot on the defensive line in the game against New England. He could push for a starting gig in Week 1.
Then we get the draft picks from the past two seasons in Khyri Thornton and Christian Ringo. Thornton is the higher pick a season ago, but he showed nothing in camp and was potentially saved from being cut by an injury which got him on injured reserve. He picked up right where he didn’t leave off, struggling in camp but he did flash some potential against New England. Ringo is a power rusher in the mold of Mike Daniels who is seen as a darkhorse for the rotation, but he had some solid play in camp and against New England, but hasn’t really had a “wow” moment yet. You might think that he’ll need at least one to cement a roster spot.
Finally we have the free agents that came in either via waivers or the undrafted market this season, and both young men have had flashes either in camp or in the New England game. Bruce Gaston was picked up last season from Arizona and was inactive for a couple games, but he was very strong in the preseason opener this season with a complete set of skills that give him a leg up on making the roster for at least a week.
Lavon Hooks, on the other hand, has a long way to go to make the team, but he drew raves from the staff and his teammates during OTAs and has been solid in camp, but like Ringo hasn’t had a true standout moment. His talent is undeniable after his performance earlier in the offseason, but he is more of a guy for the practice squad for a season.
As camp continues, look for Boyd and Pennel to split time starting with the other young guys rotating in as each hope to gain a roster spot. With all the attention on other parts of the defense so far, keep an eye of the line. They set the tone for the game and can create problems for our early opponents who have struggles of their own.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.