Raji's return among reasons for high hopes

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Raji's return among reasons for high hopes

Postby BF004 » Fri Jun 05, 2015 12:35 pm

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/ ... 65711.html

Raji's return among reasons for high hopes for Packers defensive line
By Tyler Dunne
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One year ago, Mike McCarthy said the Green Bay Packers' offensive line could be the best unit he's coached here.

The front five stayed healthy. He was proved correct.

This head coach rarely makes such proclamations. So when McCarthy stated during NFL draft weekend this year's defensive line "could be the best one we've had," it's worth listening.

One reason for such optimism — a healthy B.J. Raji — won't go that far yet. In 2009, the Packers allowed only 83.3 rushing yards per game, a team record.

"So to say that," he said, "is a little premature but I think the unit, the front seven, we can do great things here together. That's most important. But we definitely have the talent up front and expectations are very high."

However you slice it, there's a lot of optimism in the trenches again for this team — impressive considering the team whiffed on draft picks Justin Harrell (16th overall, 2007) and Jerel Worthy (51st overall, 2012), while Mike Neal (56th overall, 2010) was moved to outside linebacker and the jury is still out on Datone Jones (26th overall, 2013). At his disposal, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac hopes to have just about every body type he wants.

The violent, shorter disruptive presence that is Mike Daniels and an understudy in rookie Christian Ringo. Two different nose tackles in the tall Letroy Guion and the wide Raji. An athlete in Jones. Several young challengers. A new assistant coach in Jerry Montgomery from the University of Oklahoma.

Like Raji, he's tempering his enthusiasm, but there is enthusiasm.

"We've had some good groups," Trgovac said. "I'm not ready to say on May 28 that it could be, but we're going to work that way. We're going to work that hard to get that way."

Any hype starts with Raji's return from a season-ending torn biceps tendon.

During the first round of organized team activities, Raji repeated that a renewed focus on flexibility was central to his training regimen.

Raji realized he was too stiff, so he spent time at Flow Yoga Studio with the team's go-to yoga instructor, Ryanne Cunningham.

"That was my responsibility to get my flexibility and my range of motion back," Raji said. "I think that's back. I think that's probably what I'm most proud of, moving back to where I feel I am."

All along on injured reserve, he stayed engaged. And that's not always the case for players.

Many, Trgovac said, are sad and then disappear. Coaches don't see a player on injured reserve for months.

Not the case with Raji through 2014.

"No. 1, he got himself into great shape," Trgovac said. "Two, he stayed around here and not only learned the football part of it but learned different things about it — what's going on at this position, what's going on at that position. He didn't sulk about it.

"Part of the beauty of this game is, guys get sore, guys get hurt but they're always looking forward to Sunday. Sunday is the easiest day of the week to them. That's what they love and look forward to. When you know you don't have that every day, it takes great discipline to wake up every morning and work out and get better."

There are still many questions up front heading into training camp.

How will Guion respond to his turbulent off-season? Will Jones stay healthy? Will the team get anything out of 2014 third-rounder Khyri Thornton?

Trgovac called this a "big year" for Thornton, who was placed on IR with a hamstring injury after a sluggish first training camp.

"He needs to take that next step," Trgovac said. "And that's tough when you miss the whole year."

The coach did see promising signs toward the end of August that suggests there is hope for Thornton.

"I went back and looked at him big time at the end of the season and he did some good things in here," he said. "And that's what I really try to focus on — the positive plays that he had. That's what I showed him when he came back here. I want him to have those ingrained in his mind."

The Packers are a very long ways away from putting the pads on, let alone playing another team.

But expectations will be high for the defensive line.

Raji doesn't want to pick up where he left off in training camp before the injury. To him, there's a higher level.

"My first obligation is to make sure our young guys are coming in, ready to go," Raji said. "And I think as a unit, Coach Trgo and Coach Montgomery, when I came back and I signed, they put a lot of effort into our program and I think everybody's bought in. So I'm excited."
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