Johnny Jolly suspension: This is pretty bad
I’d love to say the league’s decision to suspend Johnny Jolly for all of the 2010 season and possibly longer will have no effect on the Packers’ competitiveness this year. I’d love to, but I can’t, because it will. The best we can hope for is that the effect will be slight.
After fronting a run defense that ranked No. 1 last season, some regression to the mean was likely for Green Bay’s line. Losing one of its three starters will make it that much more difficult to avoid a backslide. And Jolly wasn’t just a starter — he was the unit’s biggest playmaker, leading it in tackles and tossing in a team-record 11 batted passes (although run-stuffer Ryan Pickett was the most indispensable overall). Not just powerful and athletic, he also has freakishly good ball awareness for a guy who plays in the trenches. If only he showed the same presence of mind when grappling with a court-ordered probation.
The good news, such as it is, is Mike McCarthy has prepared well for Jolly’s absence by shifting Pickett to defensive end and promoting B.J. Raji to starting nose tackle, and Ted Thompson did the same by drafting two D-linemen. It’s possible Jolly wouldn’t even have started this year. But he would’ve been a hell of a fill in. Much of the Packers’ success on defense in recent years has come from maintaining a deeper-than-usual rotation of big men to ward off fourth-quarter collapses and as an insurance policy against injury. When that depth has been compromised — as in 2008, when Cullen Jenkins tore his pectoral muscle, Corey Williams left for the Browns and Justin Harrell missed most of the season — the difference has been dramatic. Jolly’s absence alone won’t sink the defense, but combined with an injury to another key starter, it could easily be the difference maker.