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Packers' Johnny Jolly and His Return to Football: A Road to Redemption

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After three years removed from the game, Johnny Jolly is in prime position to make the Green Bay roster.

Jolly helps out on a tackle here last Saturday against St. Louis
Jolly helps out on a tackle here last Saturday against St. Louis
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday, the Packers took on the St. Louis Rams in what was a rather uneventful, yet still insightful game. After being blanked in Lambeau one week before, the Packers managed to recoup with a decisive 19-7 win over the Rams. After a week of preseason uproar following the team's performance in Week 1, the Packers and its fans finally got the monkey off of their backs as they got their first win of the preseason - for what it's worth.

For many players, a preseason win means little - simply because it takes place at a time when almost all that matters are individual performances and impressing coaches while rosters are rapidly trimmed down to 53. The preseason has been all about working out the tweaks and getting prepared for the regular season, nothing else. Wins are enjoyed, losses are forgotten and mostly everyone moves on to the next game. However, at the end of the day, a win is a win and no one inside the Edward Jones Dome last Saturday seemed more appreciative of the win than Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly.

Against the Rams, the 30-year-old Jolly made the most of his time on the field. Saturday marked his first real NFL contribution since 2009 and he really looked to be having fun with his teammates again. In the game, he recorded two tackles and showed off his most valuable asset: his athleticism and his ability to disrupt the pocket. That is something that the team could use considering their need for a defensive end. Most importantly, Jolly seemed to be having fun with the game again. That probably was most evident when he notched his first "fat guy interception" of 2013.

Fewer people in the NFL has had the deck stacked against them like Jolly as he dealt with life's battles as he journeyed back to the on-the-field battles. The 30-year-old defensive tackle was charged with possession of more than 200 grams of codeine in 2008 during a Houston traffic stop. The news was well documented and many had predicted it to be the last we'll see of Jolly. After seeing so many NFL players involved in similar situations get cut, I too thought this was the end of the road for the promising cog in the middle of the Dom Capers defense.

Boy was I wrong. (Here's my take from 2011, while with ESPN Wisconsin.)

After three years removed from the game while he dealt with drug abuse and an 8-9 month stint in prison, Jolly is looking to pick up where he left off in Green Bay. Unlike a majority of players who served prison sentences (Vick, Burris, and others) and despite much of his luck in recent years, Jolly was allowed to return to his original team and was ultimately given a legitimate second chance with the same organization in a league that is all about business and production.

"I worried about that. I thought about that, I guess that's human nature," said Jolly. "But I always said that the Packers would take me back. I prayed for it and it happened. This is the only organization I've been around. I mean, I'm blessed. I am at a loss for words." -Johnny Jolly to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 4, 2013.

The love for Jolly was certainly reciprocated by prominent figures in the Packer organization. For starters, to have a no-nonsense football guy like Ted Thompson backing you after a prison stint and time away from the game should speak volumes about Jolly as a person, athlete, or both. Coach McCarthy praised Jolly's instincts as he joked about the spin move he made following his big interception. Aaron Rodgers called Jolly a "great locker room guy" and told the media that he was happy to have him back among the guys.

Perhaps the biggest testament for the Packers' love for Jolly was when he nabbed the interception. It was the single biggest moment of the game and to see the team react the way they did showed how much of a locker room guy Jolly really is. The Packers' sideline spewed with excitement as many rushed over to congratulate him, including team leaders like Rodgers.

Outside of the big love fest that is going on this week, many are predicting that Jolly may have punched his ticket back onto the Packers roster, including myself. From the moment Judge Denise Bradley sentenced him to prison to the moment the final seconds waned down during Saturday's game, Jolly has been eagerly anticipating a return to the Green and Gold. Honestly, I would be shocked if he didn't make the team - especially after being backed by Rodgers and kept on by Thompson after three years. Saturday's win was just the beginning for Jolly's road to redemption in Green Bay; all he has to do is seal the deal.

With all of that said, there is still much work to be done if Jolly is to get back to the level he was playing at before he left. He must continue to work hard, remain focused and attentive as a player. As a person, we have to assume that he has learned from his mistakes. People make mistakes all of the time, even repeated mistakes. At the end of the day, Jolly is just a human being who happens to play football. I'm glad to see him back. While it is anybody's guess as to what will come of Jolly's next steps as a Packer, one can only hope that he's learned his lesson and that is ready for his second dose of the National Football League.

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