GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson say it every offseason: It is not the rookies who will make the difference for the Green Bay Packers but rather the returning players.
With that in mind, we continue our look at some returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.
Next up, it’s defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
Why he needs to step up: Raji's breakout season of 2010, when he recorded 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks in the regular season and became a household name with his interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game, was supposed to be the launching point for his career. Instead, it has thus far been the high point. Raji has not recorded a sack since Nov. 24, 2011. That's a streak of 35 straight regular-season games. Raji's lack of production, which could be due in part to the decision to play him at defensive end rather than nose tackle in their base defense the past three seasons, forced him to settle for a one-year deal (worth $4 million) in free agency to return to the Packers this season.
What he has to do: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers does not always ask his defensive linemen to jet up the field and get after quarterbacks or stop running backs in the backfield. Rather, he sometimes prefers they occupy blockers to allow the linebackers to make those plays. Still, there are plenty times when players such as Raji are expected to make big plays. That's Raji’s task for 2014.
Outlook: Some scouts who watched Raji play last season questioned his desire to play in such a scheme, but Raji never publicly complained about his role. Nevertheless, the Packers decided this offseason to move Raji back to his natural nose tackle position. That, combined with the relative lack of interest in him during free agency, should make for a more motivated player.
Quotable: "He did play some nose last year, but I think he'll be able to focus more on it," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "There were times when we played [Ryan] Pickett at nose; times we played him at nose. Now, it’s going to be when we're in nose, it's going to be him. I think he's excited about that. Certain guys get a certain comfort at a position."