Starting this week, the Green Bay Packers are losing the services of defensive tackle Mike Pennel for the rest of the regular season. This week, Pennel accepted a reduced suspension of four games after a second positive drug test, a move that will thin out the depth on the defensive line.
Since the Packers already placed Pennel on the Reserve/Suspended list this week, that leaves them with an open spot on the 53-man roster. At first glance, it might seem obvious that the Packers would just replace Pennel by promoting defensive tackle Brian Price from the practice squad, but I argue that at this point in time, that would be the wrong move. Instead, the Packers need to promote outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert instead.
Gilbert, a 6’3”, 261-pound undrafted rookie from Arizona, is almost a carbon copy of Nick Perry in terms of his height and weight. And with Perry out this week (more on that in a second), that kind of player is just what the Packers need. Meanwhile, the Packers already have a couple of healthy players on the roster who can give them what Price (6’3”, 318) would provide.
Here’s a list of a few of the many reasons why Gilbert should be the man added to the roster this week.
The first reason that Gilbert should get called up instead of Price is easy to define. Simply put, the Packers are perilously thin at linebacker. Kyler Fackrell has sat out the last two games, Nick Perry is now out for the foreseeable future, and Clay Matthews - while improving - is still nowhere near 100%. That leaves the Packers with just three healthy outside linebackers: Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, and Jayrone Elliott. To make matters worse, Elliott is a key component of the special teams and has rarely seen more than 15 snaps in a game on defense this year.
Add in the fact that Matthews may still need to contribute on occasion at inside linebacker - due to Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan still working through injuries - and you can see that the depth is a huge concern on the edge.
Snap Counts & Versatility
Last week, Julius Peppers played 58 of 66 snaps and Datone Jones was on the field for 56 thanks to Nick Perry’s injury. That sort of snap count for Peppers is patently unsustainable at his age, even despite the fact that he got a day off from practice on Wednesday.
Furthermore, both Peppers and Jones also contribute as interior rushers in the dime package when the Packers are defending an obvious passing situation. At present, Price is not equipped to contribute as an interior pass-rusher, whereas Gilbert could line up on the edge when Peppers and Jones move to the inside.
Shuffle the Defensive Line
Christian Ringo is the Packers’ sixth defensive linemen, and he has been a gameday inactive on most Sundays this year. It’s easy to just activate him on gameday and continue with a 5-man rotation on the line. Ringo is hardly a like-for-like replacement for Pennel - he’s more suited to the 3-technique or nose rather than the 5-tech that Pennel played. However, making Ringo active on Sunday would give the Packers plenty of options to absorb the 15 or so snaps per game that Pennel has played, which have come mainly at 5-tech in the base 3-4 defense or (less frequently) as a 3-tech rusher in nickel.
First, in base, Dom Capers could put Ringo or Kenny Clark on the nose and move Letroy Guion out to the 5-tech. Dean Lowry has coming along better on the end, and could take a couple of extra snaps in either base or nickel. The third option is to simply plug in Kenny Clark at 5-tech. It is worth noting that Clark is listed as the “starter” at the 5-tech end position on the Packers’ latest unofficial depth chart, which was published on Tuesday - the same day that Pennel accepted his suspension. You could also sprinkle in a small dose of Peppers or Jones on the inside in the nickel as well.
Ultimately, the Packers have plenty of options for how to make up Pennel’s snaps on the line, but they have no such answer to cover up Perry’s absence - at least not on the 53-man roster. The solution sits on the practice squad in the form of Reggie Gilbert.