When Packers general manager Ted Thompson added free agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks to the roster during the beginning of the NFL free agency period, he bolstered an already explosive passing attack. The Packers did sign two defensive players this off season, but the defense still lacks the depth needed.
Green Bay Packers Defense Still Lacks Depth
The Packers did sign cornerback Davon House, a player who was originally drafted by the team this off season, after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. They also signed veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois this past week to a free agent deal. Francois played last season with the Redskins and brings a veteran presence to the defensive line. But neither of these players are game changers, and even with Francois in the fold, there are major questions when it comes to depth on the Packers defensive line.
The Packers will be without the services of starting defensive tackle/end Letroy Guion for the first four games of next season. It was announced at the start of this off season that Guion will be suspended for four games due to a PED violation. This isn’t the first time that Guion has been suspended. In 2015, Guion was suspended for three games because of an offseason arrest. Many have wondered why the Packers have stuck with Guion through two suspensions. Not only has his suspensions become a distraction, but his play has dropped off tremendously the past two seasons.
When the Packers lost starting nose tackle B.J. Raji in preseason action in 2014, Guion stepped in and had a career season as the Packers starting nose tackle. That season he posted a career-best 3 ½ sacks and had a combined 32 tackles. But since then, his production has dropped. He hasn’t posted a sack the past two seasons for the Packers. Although he is stout against the run, he struggles mightily rushing the passer. As Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this past week, besides not registering a sack the past two seasons, he only had one pressure last season.
The Packers and Guion did restructure his contract in the wake of his four-game suspension, but once again, they won’t be able to depend on Guion for a stretch of the season. It helps that last year’s first-round draft choice defensive tackle Kenny Clark came on strong late last season and the Packers are expecting more out of him in his second season. But Guion’s suspension leaves the depth behind Clark very thin, something the Packers will need to address, mostly likely through the NFL draft.
Jones and Peppers Depart
Guion’s suspension isn’t the only move that has put the Packers defensive line in flux. Outside linebacker/defensive end Datone Jones signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings this off season. Jones had moved to outside linebacker last season, but Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers still utilized him as an inside pass rusher in certain situations.
Jones wasn’t the only now departed Packer who was able to line up inside and out. Veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers also had the capability to line up inside in certain situations. Jones and Peppers not only had the ability to create a push from the outside but with their bulk, they were also able to line up as a defensive tackle. With them now gone, the only player the Packers have who has that capability to line up inside and outside is recently re-signed Nick Perry. But with speculation that they might play linebacker Clay Matthews more inside next season, Perry would be the only proven pass rusher on the outside, making the idea of lining Perry up inside not possible.
With Guion suspended and Jones and Peppers gone, it leaves the Packers with a lot of unproven players on the defensive line. Clark and standout defensive tackle Mike Daniels will be penciled in at nose tackle and one of the other defensive tackles/ends. It also appears that the other defensive tackle/end will be filled by Francois, but after that, there are a lot of questions on the defensive line.
Last year’s fourth-round selection Dean Lowry saw some time in the defensive line rotation last season. He was credited with 8 combined tackles and 2 sacks. He has the size, 6’6” 296 lbs., to be solid in the 3-4 defensive alignment. But to expect him to make the big jump in his second season, after only seeing little playing time last season, is expecting a lot.
Defensive tackle Christian Ringo, who is an exclusive rights free agent, has been with the Packers the past two seasons. Ringo was on the practice squad his first year before being on the roster last season. He only registered two tackles this past season but did force a fumble. Ringo has a similar build that Daniels has, but doesn’t have the strength Daniels has to overcome his small structure.
Brian Price split time on the Packers practice squad and active roster. He was an undrafted free agent last season out of the University of Texas-San Antonio. Price is built more like a nose tackle, 6’3” 318 lbs., and doesn’t have the ability to create a push from the inside as a pass rusher.
A lot will be asked of the three presumed starters just because the players behind them are so unproven. Even with the signing of Francois, Thompson and his staff will have to look for help early in this year’s draft. Without utilizing NFL free agency more, Thompson will once again make the Packers defensive coaching staff earn their paychecks, with having to coach up the players they have on their roster and get the most out of young players.