Here is a statement that I feel is pretty universally true: defensive players play at their best when they are afforded the luxury of resting frequently. Extending this, I would say that larger players, say those weighing over 300 pounds, would benefit from extra rest even more so than their lighter brethren. It should come as no surprise then that ESPN blogger Kevin Seifert is linking B.J. Raji's drop in production in 2011 to his heavy workloads over the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
As Seifert notes, the 337-pound Raji played the third-most snaps of any defensive tackle in the NFL (in terms of percentage of the team's total snaps) at 85%, which translates to 1,092 snaps. One of the reasons for Raji's high snap count was his versatility in the Packers' nickel package, which kept him on the field on passing downs. When you factor in that he was practically the only defensive lineman on the 2011 roster who was capable of pressuring the quarterback, you see that Dom Capers and the defensive coaching staff had little choice but to use him as much as possible. A tired Raji was still better than most, if not all, of the other options on passing downs.
Here's head coach Mike McCarthy on Raji's snap count:
He's a big man. It was definitely a challenge for him. I think he can handle it, but I don't think we can go six years at that pace, or even five years at that pace. So it's something we talked about. ... We really need to get back to quality over quantity there.
Ted Thompson clearly made it a priority in the off-season to improve the team's depth on the defensive line, and it's likely that lessening Raji's workload was a major reason for that effort. Look for the new faces to get a lot of playing time in the nickel package during the preseason so the coaching staff can identify players not named Raji who will be effective on third-and-long.