Packer Update

Raji needs to pick up his game

Raji hasn't been dominant at nose tackle this summer

It was easy to make excuses for B.J. Raji following his nondescript rookie season. From his training camp holdout to his nagging ankle injury to his playing out of position, there were plenty of reasons to explain why the No. 9 pick in the ’09 draft often looked like just another guy. It was expected that a healthy ankle and a switch back to nose tackle would enable the player who dominated the ACC to cause similar havoc in the NFL, but that isn’t happening – at least not yet. Through 18 practices and one preseason game, Raji has been good, but far from great.

The front three was the strength of the defense last season, and coordinator Dom Capers is counting on that to be the case again. But without the suspended Johnny Jolly at left end, the only way for that to happen is if Raji has a breakthrough year. The former Boston College star needs to be as strong at the point of attack as Ryan Pickett was a year ago, and he must be far more productive as a pass rusher. He’s 0 for 2 in the early going.

While Raji has little trouble handling opponents one-on-one, he needs to do a better job of holding his ground against double teams. In his first season at nose tackle, Pickett did an excellent job of tying up two blockers and allowing the linebackers to come up and make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. Raji must do the same, but it won’t be as easy for him. Because he weighs considerably less than Pickett, his technique needs to be close to perfect on every snap. It hasn’t been, or at least it hasn’t been on a consistent basis. He tends to rise out of his stance, play too upright and get turned too easily on occasion.

As a pass rusher, Raji needs to be a difference maker – someone who will collapse the pocket and push the opposing quarterback into the waiting arms of one of the outside linebackers. He hasn’t done that enough through the first three weeks of training camp. Sure he’s been better than Pickett, but that’s not saying much. On a defense with very few natural pass rushers, Capers is counting on Raji, along with Clay Matthews and Cullen Jenkins, to make life miserable for the Brett Favres of the world.

There’s no question that a healthy Raji will be a solid player this season, but the Packers need him to be more than solid. And maybe he will be once the regular season begins, but as of now, he’s not at the level of Casey Hampton (Steelers), Jay Ratliff (Cowboys), Vince Wilfork (Patriots), Kelly Gregg (Ravens) and Aubrayo Franklin (49ers). For the sake of the entire defense, he needs to get there as soon as possible.

-Mike Tahan contributed to this report

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9 Comments to "Raji needs to pick up his game"

  1. Archie says:

    Interesting analysis. Maybe Raji is best suited to being a 4-3 DT as many claimed going into the draft.

  2. Mike says:

    He needs at least another year before you can really judge what ‘base’ fits him best or if he’s progressing. Outside of Cortez Kennedy or Warren Sapp the list of defensive lineman that have an impact is short if non-existant. Extremely tough transition, 2nd only to QB, coming out of college into the pros. Most lineman take 2 years.

  3. Russell says:

    You wrote that Pickett is much bigger than Raji, but their weights are almost the same on the roster at the official web site. What’s the deal?

    • Michael Rodney says:

      I was at camp last summer and Pickett was much bigger than Raji. I know what the official web site says, but Pickett had to be close to 350.

  4. BigSnakeMan says:

    Glad I’m not the only one concerned about Raji. He seemed to have trouble holding the point of attack at times against CLE and I’ll be looking for some improvement @ SEA. I understand that Jolly’s situation kind of forced the Pack’s hand but I believe it was premature to move Pickett to end; would have preferred to see them rotate Pickett and Raji at the nose for another season to keep either from wearing down while making B.J. prove himself before being handed a starting slot.

  5. JimR_in_DC says:

    If I recall correctly, Raji is shorter than Picket.

  6. BJ 6’2″ 337 Pickett 6’2″ 340, and even less now with the switch to de. BJ has a lower (considerably when you see the next to each other) center of gravity and will be better than Picket in short order.

  7. I hope we are not asking too much of Raji as far as rushing the passer is concerned. We need it, of course, but I wonder if, on definite passing downs, it wouldn’t be wise to move Neal to the middle and let him use his strength to push back the middle. Besides, BJ will need some breathers so he’ll be fresher in the 4th Q.

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