GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy, Mike Trgovac and B.J. Raji believe that Johnny Jolly is worth the wait.
Just how long the Green Bay Packers will be waiting for the reinstated defensive end to be able to return to the field, though, is unclear.
However long it takes, it appears McCarthy, who was in his first year as Packers coach when the team drafted Jolly in 2006, believes he deserves a second chance after a three-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. And while McCarthy has repeatedly refused to discuss what’s keeping Jolly from reporting to the team’s organized team activity practices, McCarthy did say after Tuesday’s OTA practice that everyone – including Jolly – deserves a shot at redemption.
“I think our society is built on second chances. Think (of) how many times you look through the history of successful individuals that probably or maybe wouldn’t have happened without a second chance,” McCarthy said after the Packers returned to work for their second week of OTA practices after players had the Memorial Day weekend off.
“Every case is different. There’s no absolute right way and wrong way when you evaluate every situation. I’m glad to see Johnny Jolly going through the process that he’s going through. (I’m) very proud of where he is to this point. But he still has a lot in front of him.”
Exactly what’s keeping Jolly away from the Packers’ offseason program, McCarthy won’t say. (“Just as I’ve spoken in the past, I’ll comment on Johnny Jolly’s situation when he’s back part of the football team,” he said Tuesday.) Meanwhile, Jolly’s agent, Jack Bechta, did not respond to an email Tuesday and Jolly has not responded to multiple attempts to contact him through social media. All McCarthy has said over and over is that Jolly is going through “the process.”
Jolly had been one of the Packers' best defensive linemen before multiple arrests for possession of codeine earned him a six-year prison sentence that he began serving in November 2011. However, after just six months of incarceration, Jolly was released and put on “shock probation” for the next decade. He was suspended indefinitely by the NFL before the 2010 season, in which the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
Jolly had signed a one-year, $2.521 million free-agent tender in 2010, and his contract was tolled at the time of his suspension. Upon his reinstatement in March by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after missing the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, Jolly agreed to a restructured contract that will pay him the veteran minimum of $715,000 if he makes the team.
Last week, Jolly graduated from his court-ordered drug-rehabilitation program in Houston. In the audience for Jolly's graduation Wednesday were Packers director of player programs Rob Davis and personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac has been keeping in touch with Jolly as much as he could under NFL rules since the suspension was handed down.
“Not so much ever thinking he’d ever come back here. That was not my intent of it,” Trgovac said Tuesday. “Johnny’s such a good guy, and sometimes good guys get in a bad way, and I just care about him as a person. That’s why I stayed in contact with him as much as I was allowed to.
“There were times when I wasn’t actually allowed to contact him based on the rules, him being (suspended). I was in contact with his mother and stuff like that. If I broke a rule, I didn’t try to. I tried to stay within all the rules. But I just care about him as a person.”
The bigger question, though, is what the 6-foot 3-inch, 310-pound Jolly has left as a player. He appeared to be a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense in the lone year he got to play in the system, starting all 16 games in 2009 and finishing with 24 tackles, one sack and 10 passes defended. In total, Jolly started 39 games for Green Bay after being picked in the sixth round of the 2006 draft out of Texas A&M.
“It’s hard to say until you see a guy out there working with the other guys.” Capers said. “We’ve got a group of guys that have been working awful hard. It’s hard to get yourself ready to play this game unless you’re out there on the field going through the drill work and all that. I don’t care how much you work on your own, it’s different. We’ll just have to wait and see with Johnny.”
The odds are still against the 30-year-old Jolly, who is one of 11 defensive linemen on the Packers’ roster, including first-round draft pick Datone Jones. The Packers have taken four defensive linemen in the past two drafts.
Trgovac said he has seen Jolly in person several times since his reinstatement but isn’t sure what kind of shape he’s in. Jolly posted on his Twitter account that he'd be back in Green Bay on Tuesday, but apparently that did not happen.
“He was here a few times, but I have not seen him move around or on the field or anything like that. So I don’t know anything in that regard,” Trgovac said. “It doesn't look like he blew up, if that's what you're asking. But other than that, I don't know. I haven't seen him work out yet."
As for Jolly’s skill level and how much rust could build up during such a long layoff, Trgovac suggested that it may not be as big of an issue as one might think.
“Defensive line is not the hardest position to learn. I don't want to say we're dummies, but it's not like playing (defensive back) where the coverages will change,” Trgovac said. “(The hardest thing) is probably just your timing. Whether the guy can maintain his quickness and stuff like that. But with him being laid off, I really don't have any idea. I'm kind of excited for him to be here."
So are Jolly’s teammates. In 2011, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the NFL “deserves some of the blame” for Jolly’s suspension, and fellow defensive lineman B.J. Raji said Tuesday he’s anxious to see his friend back on the field.
“I have seen him and have talked to him,” Raji said. “That’s one thing Jolly always brought – he loves to play football. He made a lot of plays for us. His instincts are incredible.
“He had some legal issues he had to take care of, but it seems like things are looking up for him. Obviously, he’s at the age where he’s already a great athlete, so getting back in shape isn’t the hardest thing in the world. I think going through what he’s been through, I feel like he can get back there pretty easily.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.