ORLANDO, Fla. – B.J. Raji is getting his wish: He will return to nose tackle in the Green Bay Packers’ defense, putting him back at the position where he had his greatest production.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, speaking during a luncheon interview with Wisconsin reporters covering the annual NFL Meetings, confirmed Tuesday that Raji will be back in the middle of the Packers’ defensive line after not lining up on the center the past two seasons.
Raji, who was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, re-signed with the team on a one-year, $4 million deal which could be worth up to $6.5 million with incentives,
After a breakout season in 2010, when he had 6.5 regular-season sacks, another sack in the playoffs and an unforgettable pick-six interception in the NFC Championship Game victory at Chicago that sent the Packers to Super Bowl XLV, Raji hasn’t had a sack in 35 regular-season games, dating back to Nov. 24, 2011 against the Detroit Lions. Last season, he was credited with 36 tackles (14 solo, 22 assisted) and did not have a sack, forced/recovered fumble or pass deflection. He was credited with three QB hits and 10 hurries by Pro Football Focus.
But McCarthy acknowledged that Raji spent most of the past two seasons at the three- and five-technique spots on the line, which lessened his impact.
“We played B.J. a lot as a 3. My conversation with B.J. is that I want to keep him over center, keep him in the A gap more and tailor things more to his specific skill set and cut him loose,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “I think B.J. will do a good job. If you look at the package B.J. was used in the past, I think we can do a lot less of that, if any, and keep him over the center where he’s closer to the football and can be a more impactful player.”
Late last season, Raji put on a happy face despite being in a contract year and swore to reporters that he wasn’t complaining about his non-playmaking role.
“Quite frankly, people that understand the game know what time it is. Everything else doesn’t matter,” Raji said then. “I’m older now and I understand that part of being a good teammate is understanding what is required of you. I don’t label myself as a two-down defensive lineman; I’m just a two-down defensive lineman for us this year.”
Asked if Raji ever expressed unhappiness with his role to him, McCarthy said the two talked in Raji’s postseason exit interview and again during the re-signing process.
“He felt he did what he was asked to do,” McCarthy said. “I’ve had a number of conversations with B.J. He’s a young man we drafted, we brought him into our program. He’s had success. (In recent years) he’s been asked to do things a little differently and I think it’s a process we need to get him back over center.”
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