Johnny Jolly’s suspension will hurt the Packers, but it won’t hurt Justin Harrell. In fact, the former No. 1 pick is now – provided he can stay healthy – almost a lock to make the final roster. That’s because of all the young defensive linemen who’ll be fighting for backup jobs this summer, he’s the only one who can play both end and nose tackle.
Why’s versatility so important? Because without Jolly, backup nose tackle Ryan Pickett is going to be counted on to help fill the void at left end. And without another player capable of handling the nose, the defense would be extremely vulnerable should starter B.J. Raji go down. That’s where Harrell would prove invaluable. He could replace Pickett at left end or Raji at nose tackle or he could simply move up one spot on the depth chart at both positions.
It remains to be seen whether Harrell’s body will allow him to finally make a contribution to the team. He practiced fairly consistently this spring and didn’t appear to have any problems with his back. The real test, of course, won’t come until the pads go on and the hitting begins next month. If Harrell’s back doesn’t cooperate, general manager Ted Thompson might be forced to acquire another lineman, and finding a player who can line up at both end and nose tackle is much easier said than done.