Cory’s Corner: Packers’ 2014 D Begins and Ends with Raji

With the signing of Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji could have a snice year.
With the signing of Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji could have a nice year.

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.

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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

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  • Tim

    Its a funny thing, at this point I guess all we have is potential and hope. Same for every team and player. Could be a lot worse. Raji certainly has potential. He’s certainly got the build and talent. If he doesn’t do it move on to Boyd or Thompson. Like the safety group, there is no where to go but up. Someone would have to be trying to be worse than last year’s interior line. Maybe we have the next Gilbert Brown in one of those two new guys. Someone will be playing, maybe someone good. We’ll see once the season begins.

    • lefty

      Who is Thompson?

  • Razer

    Not sure how your article supports the 2014 D beginning and ending with Raji, especially when Peppers takes over the focus of the article. I am also not sure that Raji will be any more important than Daniels, Boyd, Guion, Datone Jones, Worthy, Thornton or even Mike Neal. If Raji had shown the instinct and fire that makes him a force in the trenches, then I would put more value on his resurgence. At this point, he is a big body that needs to prove himself. I think that his one year deal reflects the Packers last chance position on his mediocre play

    • lefty

      I don’t think Raji makes the final 53.

  • http://allgb.com DUHAWKS

    I hope Raji knowa he was given a 2nd chance. But we know also we need him back to him old self. Now picture this all of the NFL teams, we have a healthy Cray and Peppers coming from the outsides. We have the old Raji back coming up the middle and a new d-backs. If this all plays out, who could stop us. I guess I’m dreaming like Christmas(in July).

    • Stroh

      If you call moving him back to his natural position a 2nd chance. I consider it common sense!

  • Since ’61

    As I posted in yesterday’s article, Raji needs to show up, if not we move on as Tim has correctly pointed out in his post.
    It will be very frustrating to go through another season of mediocre defensive play.
    Right now I just want to get through Training camp and pre-season without injuries and then we can see what kind of team we really have. Go Pack! Thanks, Since ’61

    • Big T

      4 million is too much for a guy that gives up on a play. I really hope jaba the hut gets a second wind but I wouldn’t bank on it. Obviously he will look better this year because of the talent around him. I just hope he shows up this year. Anything is better than getting pushed around like a tub of lard.

      • lefty

        I think TT goes with Guion or UDFA Pennel at the nose. Cheaper and more hungry. Raji is done.

    • Tim

      I gotta with you nick p. that TT had nothing to do with the injuries, and the injuries were a big part of why our defense stunk last year. The one exception was safety, where I believe the Packers horribly misjudged their talent level. Raji has been a good player at the nfl level, but has way under performed recently. Who knows, maybe that’s partly on the coaching staff. Raji’s, Matthews’, Williams or Perry’s…failure to perform isn’t on TT imo.

  • Archie

    Big T has nailed it on Raji. Has anybody as young as Raji blown his contract year as badly as Raji did? And if they did, did they bounce back? I very much doubt it. He played like the jaba the hut in his contract year. It doesn’t get worse than that. I seriously doubt he makes final 53. He’s lucky the cupboard is bare behind him. It’s time for the Pack to send a message to the non-performers on defense. Same ‘ol same ‘ol will not get it done. Some of the young DL guys sound like they are ready to prove themselves. Keeping Raji and acquiring Peppers are two high risk/low reward moves if you ask me. I don’t think TT has a good feel for defense. It’s certainly not his strong suit. Wasn’t in Seattle either. We need a defensive GM and an offensive GM. I’m ok with TT as an offensive GM but it took him forever to rebuild the OL and run game. Had he not hit the jackpot with QB, I think he would have been fired long ago.

    • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

      Last year the Packers were playing without their 1st round draft choices for all or part of the season from 2009, 10, 11, 12, and 2013. They were without their 2nd rounders from 2011 and both from 2012. 10 of the 22 starters played 16 games that’s it, 10! Oh, and they lost some guy named Rodgers for 8 games too. Yup, it’s all Teds fault!!

  • http://jerseyal.com Thegreatreynoldo

    I would guess that if Raji flops, Boyd and Guion would be the likely back-ups, maybe Thornton. I hope the position change is the answer and Raji’s play is stellar. Even if his play is stellar, while I would be okay with signing him to a big contract extension, it would only be if the guaranteed money is small. There has been some talk of the incentive-based contract Crosby used to have, but that’s the only way I would go with Raji. Go Pack!

  • PETER LAES

    at the amount of money that Raji was paid, he should of performed whether it was his ‘true’ position or not. I do fault DC for trying to put too many square pegs into round holes the past few years, but it is also the player’s responsibility to perform, regardless of where he is posotioned. This is not elementary school, don’t pout just because you are asked to play a position you don’t like.

    • Stroh

      How can you expect a NT to play anything remotely close to JJ Watt/Richard Semour? Are their games and style of play remotely similar? Are their body types and talents for that matter?

  • dobber

    How much do we really expect Raji to play, anyway? He’s a base NT on a defense that’s likely to play less than 40% of its defensive snaps in base.

  • Stroh

    Julius Peppers signing had absolutely nothinf to do w re-signing or moving Raji back to NT.

  • funcrusher

    Stating that the “D Begins and Ends with Raji” is ridiculous, but I do think he’s gonna have a nice year. Doubt he’ll ever return to his 2010 form, but being back at his true position is important.

    Also, having Daniels playing right next to him should help light a fire. We’ll see.

  • Tailsmen2009

    Raji will provide the substanace which we will need this year for performance all around, at the change back to position ” Nose tackle’. Having great numbers at this positions adds to a good estimation at what may be expected also.

  • Mike

    This is my take on BJ and the state of the defense message. The way the Packers have been with injuries that has to factor into any discussion. I know they will come, just praying not so massive.
    BJ is definitely important, he doesn’t have to have the stats, just his ability to hold the point and stuff the run and give some push up the middle. True he may never reach his epic 2010 level, but it’s not like he is over the hill, if the Packers thought that, they would have ditched him and moved on by now. This is a wakeup call for him as a professional and big opportunity to show he still has it and wants to do it, if not someone will take his place- the way of the NFL. I am pulling for him big time and his character comes through. But as the saying goes,” it takes a village”, and same for our defense, they all need to step up and hopefully avoid that injury bug.

  • WKUPackFan

    Did Raji really quit on plays last year or was something else going on? There are reports that Raji is a locker room favorite. Guys who quit on plays are usually not well liked by their teammates, even at the professional level.

  • Stroh

    He dudnt quit on plays. He was out of position becuz he’s NOT a 34 DE. The difference is massive. Does Raji’s resemble JJ Watts? Not in the least! Yet he was being forced to play the same position w very similar responsibilities.

    How is that so difficult to understand?

  • Sir Cheese

    I don’t disagree that Raji is playing out of position and that is the primary reason for his sub -par play. But JJ. Watt is not a great representation of a prototypical DE in a 3-4. One could argue he plays out of position, just more successfully.

  • lefty

    12 tackles the entire regular season? If you are listed on the roster as a DL – I don’t care where you line up. It’s still on the defensive line. Which in GB there are only 3 players. How can a #1 draft choice rank 540th in tackles in the NFL?

  • Stroh

    Watt is a prototypical 34 DE. Idoubt you could find anyone that is more perfectly sized and suited to play the position. In what way do you consider him out of position as a 34 DE. He’s got perfect size and ability. 6’5 290 being ideal IMO.