2014 was the season the Green Bay Packers finally developed a more stingy defense to go along with a high octane offense. To do that, they would need to get stronger along the defensive line and become a more lean, mean quarterback destroying machine.
In order for that vision to be realized, Green Bay needed to bring in more talent along the line to support a struggling B.J Raji, the emerging Mike Daniels, and 2013 rookie Datone Jones. Depth as well as finding immediate contributors was needed as Raji was lost for the season early in the preseason. General manager Ted Thompson once again had to spend significant time on the defensive line.
Did the added attention and new talent pay off? Let's take a look at the newcomers to this season's Packers defensive line.
DE Letroy Guion
Acquired via free agency
That is not a typo, the Packers actually waded into free agency. The signing of Guion was far less of a splash than the signing of Julius Peppers, but it became nearly as important thanks to the injury to Raji.
Make no bones about it: Guion struggled mightily early in the season. He couldn't tackle very well and was a key player in the Packers having the lowest ranked rushing defense in the first few weeks of the regular season.
He didn't record many sacks but he improved as the season went on, just like the defense. Slowly he became a sound tackler and was able to become more disruptive in the pass rush. Both Guion and Jones grew as the season went on, just as the Packers had hoped.
DE Khyri Thornton
Acquired via 2014 NFL Draft, third round
Thompson raised a lot of eyebrows with this selection and now with the benefit of hindsight, those eyebrows were justifiably in the upright position.
Selected as a high motor guy, Thornton was expected to bring something to the defensive rotations judging solely by how high he was drafted. He was expected to be either an end or a nose tackle or both. With Raji back only on a one year deal, perhaps Green Bay saw Thornton as Plan B if Raji didn't work out.
Once training camp opened, Thornton didn't contribute or pull away from the competition. He spent all of the regular season on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs
DE Luther Robinson and DT Bruce Gaston
Acquired as 2014 undrafted free agent and signed off the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, respectively.
Robinson was mainly a depth signing and saw his most action in the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings. Not soon after, he went down and the Packers signed Gaston. He saw no action the remainder of the season.
Overall grade on new additions: C-
Guion turned out to be a decent addition as the season went on but with the crashing and burning of Thornton combined with zero impact from Robinson and Gaston, this was not a banner group of signings by Thompson.
It will be interesting to see in the offseason if the Packers again bring back Raji to compete with Guion or roll the dice on Guion making a jump in his second season in Dom Capers' scheme.
Either way, look for this to be near the top of the list for positions for the Packers to address in 2015.