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You Can't Keep Them All: Packers' Defensive Line

Mike Trgovac will be one of the men who decides which defensive linemen make the roster this season. (Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE)
Mike Trgovac will be one of the men who decides which defensive linemen make the roster this season. (Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE)

After watching the Packers' defense struggle to find a pass rush and develop depth last season, General Manager Ted Thompson made several moves in the off-season to address the defensive front. Ted added potential impact players to contribute immediately as well as several role players to improve the depth. These role players should push each other for roster spots, with only the top few making the team for 2011.

First up are the prospective starters:

DE/DT Ryan Pickett, 6'2", 340 lbs

Acquired 2006 (free agent)

Pickett is the old goat of the line, but has provided a steadying presence for years. He's capable of playing nose tackle or three-technique end, and likely will play the latter in the upcoming season. He's not flashy and doesn't rack up a lot of sacks, but he's consistent, holds his position against the run, and occupies blockers.

NT B.J. Raji, 6'2", 337 lbs

Acquired 2009 (first-round draft pick)

Raji is the force in the middle. He has a rare pass-rushing ability from the nose tackle position, and holds up well against the run. His struggles have come mainly when he is forced to play too many snaps, which was one reason for his decline in the second half of the 2011 season. Having more bodies to rotate in and out of the lineup will keep his snap count down, allowing him to be more effective.

DE Jerel Worthy, 6'2", 308 lbs

Acquired 2012 (second-round draft pick)

Worthy may be the starter in week one by default. The rest of the players on the roster will fight for playing time, but none has the pure ability of Worthy, who will likely play the five-technique spot. He's quick off the snap and physical, but needs to answer questions about his motor by giving 100% of his effort on every play.

The likely backups:

DE Mike Neal, 6'3", 294 lbs

Acquired 2010 (second-round draft pick)

Neal's four-game suspension for taking a banned substance will hurt his chance at the roster, as will his inability to stay on the field in his two years in Green Bay. I still feel like we don't know what we have in Neal; he hasn't been that impressive when he's played either. If he does make the roster, he'll be in the rotation at end.

DE Jarius Wynn, 6'3", 285 lbs

Acquired 2009 (sixth-round draft pick), again in 2010 (free agent)

Wynn finally showed some spark last season, recording two sacks against the Bears in week 3. He's basically just a body to rotate on the line, and while he has a little bit of upside, he will have to fight to keep his job in training camp.

DE C.J. Wilson, 6'3", 290 lbs

Acquired 2010 (seventh-round draft pick)

Wilson is basically Wynn, minus the sacks. He'll be in for a tougher fight than Wynn.

DE Lawrence Guy, 6'4", 304 lbs

Acquired 2011 (seventh-round draft pick)

Guy didn't see the field in 2011. I hope he surprises me, because I haven't seen anything to write home about on him.

DE/DT Johnny Jones, 6'4", 310 lbs

Acquired 2011 (undrafted free agent)

Who? Jones spent all of 2011 on the practice squad and is basically unknown. He's a long shot to make the team.

DT Mike Daniels, 6'0", 291 lbs

Acquired 2012 (fourth-round draft pick)

Daniels is basically the Bizarro version of Jerel Worthy: he's not especially big or talented, but he helps make up for having less ability by having a nonstop motor. Since he was drafted in the fourth round this season, it will take a big surprise for him to get cut, but he'll have to use that motor to earn his job nonetheless.

DE Anthony Hargrove, 6'3", 282 lbs

Acquired 2012 (free agent)

Hargrove, as we all know, is suspended for the first half of the 2012 season for the Saints bounty investigation (pending his appeal). He has been an effective pass-rusher as a 3-4 defensive end in the past, and is one of the minimum-salary linemen that Ted Thompson brought in this spring. With his status up in the air, he'll have to show the Packers a very good reason to make a roster spot available mid-season.

DE Phillip Merling, 6'5", 315 lbs

Acquired 2012 (free agent)

Merling was recently signed as additional depth after an injury-plauged career with the Miami Dolphins. He was once a top pass-rushing prospect and he fits the Packers' 3-4 scheme well as an end; however, it remains to be seen whether he is fully healthy and can be productive.

DT Daniel Muir, 6'2", 322 lbs

Acquired 2012 (free agent)

Muir returns to Green Bay for his second stint as a Packer, having played three games as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He was a starter on the Colts' Super Bowl team in 2009, and has value as a run-stopper.

If I were a betting man, here are the players who I think will be on the roster for Week One, barring any injuries:

Pickett, Raji, Worthy, Daniels, Muir, Wynn, Merling. This is obviously pure speculation, however, so don't read too much into it. My guess is that Neal and Hargrove would only be activated after their suspensions if one of the players on the roster gets injured or is completely ineffective.

Assuming the top three are locks, who would you keep out of the rest if you had four spots to fill on day one?