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 the author

Packer Update is the creation of a longtime fan. My name is Michael Rodney and I was a sportswriter in the early 1990s. I worked full-time for a newspaper in South 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 all of pro sports.