With the start of training camp right around the corner, it’s a slow season for news in the National Football League but when it comes to the Packers there was some recent news that could be significant — Johnny Jolly, a long-time veteran of the Packers was recently given clearance by his doctor (according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) to return to football following a neck injury that ended his 2013 season.
Jolly, who returned to the Packers last season after being suspended from the NFL for three seasons due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy, played in 13 games last season with eight starts to his credit. It wasn’t a hugely productive season with just 11 tackles and one sack but at least early on his presence was felt, particularly in the running game.
Throughout the offseason, there has been speculation about whether or not he would be healthy enough to return to Green Bay for the 2014 season. However, the Packers have been going through a massive change over on their defensive line and even if he is now healthy, Jolly may not be in the Packers’ plans going forward.
First the Packers re-signed B.J. Raji with the stipulation that he would move back to his natural spot at nose tackle, then the team also signed former Vikings defensive lineman Letroy Guion and drafted Khyri Thorton in the third-round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
If you look at the depth chart following those moves the Packers have Raji and Guion at nose, then Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Khyri Thorton and Jerel Worthy at defensive end, plus Mike Neal, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry, who could all see time at the elephant position when sometimes consists of playing defensive end in a 4-3 look.
Jolly has been a valued member of the Packers’ defensive line rotation in the past but may not fit what the Packers want to do defensively anymore. Green Bay has gotten away somewhat from the massive bodies up front. Last season, Green Bay was starting Raji, Jolly and Ryan Pickett along their defensive front, all of whom are well over 300 pounds.
In contrast, this season, the Packers have focused on brining in quicker, more athletic defensive lineman to try and combat the new-age of up-tempo offenses. Jolly could still contribute solely as a run defender but he offers next to nothing as a pass rusher and if Green Bay plans on using the elephant position frequently in 2014, it could reduce his potential snaps even further.
At this point, it’s all speculation because unless Jolly is cleared by the Packers’ team doctor, it doesn’t matter what his personal doctor says about his status. He is in the same boat as fellow free agent Jermichael Finley but at this time, even if Jolly is cleared to return and is given another shot in Green Bay, he will have his work cut out for him in his attempt to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.