As Packers fans well know, GM Ted Thompson isn’t one to buttress his roster from the outside. So let’s assume Ryan Pickett or some other experienced nose tackle won’t be riding in on a white horse to save the day following B.J. Raji’s season-ending biceps injury. Here’s a closer look at the in-house candidates:
JOSH BOYD: Last year’s fifth-round pick from Mississippi State has above average movement skills and foot speed, but lacks a really strong base and was too easily turned as a defensive end in 2013. This doesn’t bode well for his chances at nose tackle, where he’s 15 pounds lighter than the average player at that position in the National Football League. While he’s probably capable of holding up for a handful of snaps or even for a few series, expecting him to capably plug the middle for 20 or more snaps every week seems unrealistic.
LETROY GUION: The former Viking, signed as a street free agent in April, finally practiced on Monday after missing all of training camp with a hamstring injury. So what can you expect to see? Based on last season, the answer is not much. The muscular 27-year-old looks very impressive in his uniform and he’ll make the occasional nice play, but I didn’t see nearly enough on video to make me think that he’d be anything more than a semi-decent backup end in 2014. To be honest, the thought of him playing nose tackle never even crossed my mind.
MIKE PENNEL: The undrafted rookie has been a pleasant surprise in camp, but he’s not ready to play a significant role on defense just yet. The former Colorado State-Pueblo star is huge and surprisingly quick, but I watched him get bounced around by backup O-linemen quite a bit the past two weeks. He also tends to get fooled by misdirection and can be late to locate the football. In short, he plays like a young man who started only 17 games in college – 12 of them coming at a Division II school. He has a bright future, but the future ain’t now.
I suppose the Packers could hope to survive by using a combination of these three players at nose tackle, but that would be very risky – especially when you consider that A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are the starting inside linebackers. Thompson likes to replace injured starters from within, but there doesn’t appear to be a David Bakhtiari among the current group of candidates. And while it’s hard to play good 3-4 defense without quality inside linebackers, it’s darn near impossible without a quality nose. That’s why Raji was drafted 9th overall in 2009.