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Defensive tackle Jolly makes giant strides

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by IronMan, Sep 4, 2007.

  1. IronMan

    IronMan Cheesehead

    Nov 23, 2006

    Defensive tackle Jolly makes giant strides

    After subpar rookie year, he's pushing for starting job

    By Rob Demovsky

    It turns out the Green Bay Packers weren't just pumping up Johnny Jolly during training camp in an effort to drum up interest on the trading market because of their surplus at defensive tackle.

    No, the Packers came away so impressed with the second-year pro's preseason performance that he's been thrust into the mix of potential starters alongside Ryan Pickett on the interior of the defensive line.

    When it comes time to select a starter this week for Sunday's regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and coach Mike McCarthy just might go with Jolly. If that becomes a reality, it would cap one of the greatest about-faces in recent team history.

    A year ago, Jolly was something of a long shot to stick on the Packers' 53-man roster when they broke camp. As a rookie sixth-round draft pick, Jolly was slowed by the ankle injury that dogged him during his final season at Texas A&M and subsequently led to him being available to the Packers with the 183rd overall pick in the 2006 draft.

    Jolly didn't see the field in the regular season until the sixth game, and two weeks later, was inactive for another five-game stretch. He finally found a regular spot in the rotation late in the season and played the final four games as a backup.

    A year later, he appears to have beaten out Corey Williams (an 11-game starter last season) and Colin Cole (who has made eight starts over the last three seasons) for that second defensive tackle spot. All three are likely to play ahead of rookie first-round draft pick Justin Harrell — who, along with the sixth defensive tackle on the roster, rookie free agent Daniel Muir, are likely to be Week 1 inactives.

    No starting spot is safe at the Packers' deepest position, but for reasons that include his preseason performance and how he matches up against the Eagles' offensive line, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Jolly could be the opening-day starter.

    "He came in last year and had the ankle, but he kept flashing things, so we knew it was coming," said Packers defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn, who on Monday would not reveal whether Jolly will start this week. "We just had to get him healthy."

    Jolly spent all offseason in Green Bay but showed up for training camp out of shape.

    He couldn't pass the running test administered the day before practice began, but coaches chalked that up to the time he spent away from the gym this summer while dealing with the death of a close family friend.

    When Jolly was cleared to practice three days into camp, his offseason work showed up. He added about 5 pounds, mostly in the muscles of his lower body. That helped him play with better anchor and made it nearly impossible for offensive linemen to move him around. He also worked on his pass-rush moves and though he's probably not the pass rusher that Williams is from the inside, he stood out during the one-on-one drills this summer.

    "He had a very good camp," Sanders said of Jolly. "He's matured into his role. It's still a work in progress, but he's becoming a professional."

    Jolly's role — and that of the rest of the defensive tackles — is far from set in stone. Sanders and Nunn said on Monday that a guy could be a starter one week and a backup the next. Nunn said he considers four of the tackles to be legitimate starters. Though he didn't name names, he was presumably speaking of Cole, Jolly, Pickett and Williams. He wouldn't say for sure that Harrell would be inactive this week, but it's unlikely he would be on the 45-man game-day roster considering last year the Packers almost always dressed four defensive tackles.

    "We've got six defensive tackles that could go out there and start," Jolly said. "So you never know from game to game."

    That's nothing new for this group, however, considering that last year Cole opened the season as a starter and by Week 3 he was a healthy inactive. In all likelihood, Nunn and Sanders will try to play to each tackle's strengths. For example, Jolly might see more work on early downs because he's more adept at stopping the run, while Williams (who had a career-high seven sacks last season) probably will see more action on third downs and in obvious passing situations because he's a better pass rusher.

    "That's tough, man, because you really don't know," Williams said. "It's kind of irritating, but we're all good guys and not selfish. If it's me starting, then fine. If it's Jolly starting or Cole starting, then fine. Whoever it might be, we're all going to be prepared to play regardless.

    "Johnny worked a lot with the first group (on Monday), so that's what I'm saying. You just never know."

    Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly runs through drills during practice on Clarke Hinkle Field on Monday. The former sixth-round draft pick has blossomed into a possible starter in his second year as a pro. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette

  2. warhawk

    warhawk Cheesehead

    Dec 7, 2005
    The depth at "D" line will keep our guys fresh and give us the advantage in the fourth quarter when most NFL games are won or lost.

    Normally RB's find a little extra space and the offense has the upper hand in the 4th quarter. I know we certainly found more running room as games wore on.

    The depth we have on defense will be a factor in coming out on top in the close ones and I have a feeling we will be in a lot of close ones this year.
  3. millertime

    millertime Cheesehead

    Sep 18, 2006
    i called it. jolly is starting. shower me with props and kudos, please...

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