Young DEs need to grow up fast

Without Jolly, second-round pick Neal needs to contribute right away

With Johnny Jolly suspended for the season, converted nose tackle Ryan Pickett will likely move into the starting lineup at left defensive end. As far as depth is concerned, the Packers have four intriguing young players on the roster, but only one of them has started a game in the NFL. Here’s a brief look at the contenders for the backup jobs at end:

Justin Harrell – Chosen 16th overall in the 2007 draft, the former Tennessee star has missed 35 games in three seasons, including all 16 a year ago. He isn’t as big or as athletic as Jolly, but he’s every bit as strong. If – and it’s a gigantic if – his balky back holds up, he should be a more than adequate backup with the potential to eventually supplant Pickett in the starting lineup.

Mike Neal – Drafted 56th overall in April, Neal arrived in Green Bay with no experience playing outside – either in a 3-4 or a 4-3. And while he worked exclusively at end in the mini-camps and OTAs, he never looked completely comfortable. Jolly made a similar transition look easy, but it’s not. Neal has plenty of talent, but as is the case with most rookies – especially the ones being asked to change positions – he figures to be a lot better in November than he is in September.

C.J. Wilson – Wasn’t drafted until the seventh round because he’s not an ideal fit at any one position. What he is, however, is a good football player. Wilson looked more comfortable than Neal during the spring. This isn’t all that surprising since he lined up at defensive end in college – albeit in a 4-3 scheme. He’s a bit undersized and a little stiff, but he’s powerful and plays with outstanding balance – traits that should serve him well in the NFL.

Jarius Wynn – Had four tackles in 11 games after being selected in the fifth round of the ‘09 draft. He showed some potential last summer, but his lack of size was a problem once the regular season started. At just over 270 pounds, he got knocked around like pinball way too often. Wynn is up to 285 now, but it remains to be seen whether he can maintain that weight. If he can, there’s a chance he could surprise.

Another young defensive end to keep an eye on is Ronald Talley, who spent his entire rookie year on the practice squad. The former Delaware star did some positive things last summer and seemed poised to make a strong run at a roster spot in 2010. Unfortunately, a knee injury sidelined him for the entire off-season, so he’ll have an even bigger hill to climb come August.

About author

Michael Rodney

Packer Update is the creation of a longtime fan. My name is Michael Rodney and I was a sportswriter in the 1990s. I worked full-time for a paper in Jersey but I still managed to get quite a few articles about the Packers published during that time. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing about the most storied franchise in the NFL.


  1. JohnnyC 07/20/2010 at 12:56 pm

    There’s definitely potential at DE, but it’s all unproven and that’s a little scary. If Harrell is healthy and Neal plays like a 2nd rounder, we’ll be in great shape. But if Harrell gets hurt again and Neal isn’t ready, then we could be in some trouble. I’m also curious to see how Pickett plays. He might be fine, but there aren’t many 6-2 350 pound DEs in the league.

  2. Bernie 07/21/2010 at 7:11 am

    Mike Neal will probably have an impact similar to Calais Campbell which means he’ll be able to hold up at the point of attack as a rookie and then develop his pass rushing techniques to a point where they’ll be effective his second year. The same goes for C.J. Wilson but at least he has experience as a DE. Most defensive linemen, even those drafted in the first or second round, have very unmemorable rookie campaigns.

    Harrel and Wynn are more than likely the best bets to contribute this season which I’m sure is not what everyone wants to hear.

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