I gave B.J. Raji a lot of grief last year.
After setting career lows in total tackles (12) and tallying no sacks for the second straight season, it was completely warranted.
Raji’s argument was that he barely played his true position as a bona fide nose tackle. He dabbled in playing end and also spent time as a three-technique lineman that is more prevalent in a 4-3 scheme.
True position or not, his production nose-dived to the point that many — including myself — were surprised that the Packers didn’t let him walk in free agency.
But then Julius Peppers signed.
Which of course means that Raji will be going back to his usual perch at the middle of the defensive line as the team’s nose tackle. The fifth-year pro should be ecstatic about getting help on the outside to assist him bull-rushing up the gut.
And there’s another twist that makes it even better for the Packers: Raji signed a team-friendly deal this past offseason. Of course, there’s no way Green Bay can lose when Raji turns down $8 million a season. Now the 28-year-old is operating under a 1-year $4,000,000 deal.
Will Peppers have a big year? He may surprise a lot of people, but even if he plays like an average 34-year-old, the Packers will be OK.
And the reason is because Green Bay will be playing to the strengths of the guy that was one of the best run-stoppers in the game in 2010.
Is it a gamble? Sure. First of all, Clay Matthews cannot get hurt again. A consistent pass rush must be executed from each side in order to give Raji space up the middle.
In more ways than one this is Raji’s year. He needs a big year for a big payday, but he also wants a solid year to end the criticism he took all of last year for giving up on plays early. Obviously, there is no excuse for loafing and there’s no reason to do that no matter what position you play.
Raji cannot be satisfied with how he played last year. I mean he was tied for 540th in the league in combined tackles. He will need to be more of a ball hawk this year because the Packers take on eight teams with a dominant running back.
Peppers was a big addition to a defense that has been correctly overlooked recently. However, his presence is going to be up to the entire unit.
Peppers may get the headlines this summer, but it’s Raji that stands to benefit the most.——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn