Even if the Green Bay Packers re-sign B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion, they still could use help on the defensive line. That help could come via the draft, a Ted Thompson free-agent signing or Datone Jones finally living up to his first-round draft position.
Or maybe it could come from a JAG currently on the Packers’ defensive line. “JAG” is a (somewhat snarky) term for “Just a Guy,” or a replacement level player who isn’t very good. Current JAGs on the Packers d-line are Mike Pennel, Luther Robinson, Josh Boyd, Bruce Gaston and Khyri Thornton.
Could any of these players become more than JGAs in 2015 and give the Packers defensive line the boost it needs?
Of all the JAGs, Pennel probably has the most promise. There’s a reason the Packers kept him as an undrafted rookie following an exhibition season where he showed an incredible mixture of strength and athleticism. We didn’t see that carry over into real games, but it usually takes defensive linemen — regardless of where (or if) they’re drafted — at least one season to get going. Pennel’s ceiling remains high. Even if he doesn’t become an impact player, I think he’s good enough to provide the depth up front every good team needs.
Boyd has had a few non-JAG moments. Are these moments of stellar play a sign that the still-young Boyd is more than just a JAG? Or do we already know what we have in Boyd after two seasons: a JAG who occasionally will tease us with non-JAG moments? You don’t see 300-plus pound guys with Boyd’s athleticism often. I’d like to see what he could do if he got a little stronger.
We don’t know much about Luther Robinson, but he sounds like a tough dude. You have to be tough to sign as an undrafted free agent following an unproductive college career under two different coaches at Miami, then stick on the roster when competing with a third-round pick (Thronton) for reps and attention at training camp. Robinson also played basketball in high school, and has decent athleticism for a 305-pounder to rush the passeer. That athleticism was on display in Green Bay’s home win over the Vikings in October, where Robinson tipped a pass and notched two quarterback hurries. Actually, Robinson looked good in games 5-8 when Jones was out, but then Robinson landed on IR on Dec. 4 with a calf injury. We’ll see if Robinson can once again outshine Thornton and any other drafted defensive linemen in training camp and rise about JAG status.
Of all the Packers JAG d-linemen, we know the least about Gaston. We know he was signed off Arizona’s practice squad Dec. 8. We know Green Bay was his fourth team. We know he ran a 4.96 40 and bench pressed 34 times at the combine. We know he’s big — 6’2″ and 315 pounds. We know he never played a snap in Green Bay. We don’t know if he has what it takes to be more than a JAG. It’ll probably be tough for Gaston to prove himself come August, but we’ll see.
Nobody had really heard of Thornton when Ted Thompson drafted him in the third round and nobody has really heard of him since. By all accounts, Thornton was a disaster in training camp. Passive, short, no pass rush and easily gobbled up by blockers was the scouting report before Thornton hurt his hamstring in the exhibition finale and landed on IR. You hate to write a guy off before he ever played a single down in a real game, but Thornton’s rookie season didn’t make you very confident that he’s more than a JAG.
If just one of these current JAGs could grow into more than a JAG this season, I’d be happy. Perhaps Pennel as a run-stuffer in base. Boyd taking another step and providing athletic depth. Robinson becoming a decent pass rusher. Thornton or Gaston doing anything. As a draft-and-develop team, the Packers rely on young players shedding their JAG status in years two and three. We’ll see who, if anyone, steps up along the defensive line.
Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .