Packers DT Jolly continues to defy the odds

GREEN BAY, Wis. – When training camp opened, an argument could have been made that Johnny Jolly was no better than ninth on the Green Bay Packers' defensive-line depth chart.

It would not have been a stretch to say he entered training camp ahead of only one player at his position, 26-year-old undrafted rookie Gilbert Pena (who was among the first players the Packers cut).

Jolly, 30, had been out of football for three years, banished by commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and served jail time after being arrested multiple times for possession of codeine.

So when Goodell reinstated him and the Packers decided to give him a second chance, Jolly faced an uphill battle to make the team at a position at which last season the Packers kept only six players on their initial 53-man roster.

No one, except for perhaps Jolly himself, knew whether he could work his way back into football shape, avoid injury and show if his skills -- which last were on display during the 2009 season -- still existed.

Sure enough, as training camp progressed and Jolly lost weight -- he wouldn’t say how close he is to his listed weight of 325 pounds -- he stayed healthy, and his ability to play the run and swat away passes at the line of scrimmage returned.

“In my mind, I always felt I could contribute, but I knew that it was going to take some time,” Jolly said Monday in his first comments since he found out he made the roster two days earlier. “But basically just continuing working on the things that coach had me working on, and now I’m at this point.”

With so much of the focus on whether Jolly could find his football form, it’s easy to forget that Jolly’s comeback is more than just about football. He admitted he was addicted to the codeine-based drug called “purple drank,” which he discussed in a 2011 interview with ESPN.

That addiction is something he said he continues to be mindful of on a daily basis through his post-treatment program.

“That’s a part of life, I guess, when you go through something like that,” Jolly said. “That’s something you’re going to have to always be on top of and not let it slip back into your life. I’m going to stay on top of that and continue to do what I need to do to keep it away from me, and I’m going to keep moving on far from that.”

Packers general manager Ted Thompson had to be convinced to even give Jolly another chance. Some veteran players went to Thompson to speak on Jolly’s behalf. Jolly accepted a reduced salary -- $715,000 from the $2.521 million he had been scheduled to make before he was suspended.

It didn’t take long for Thompson to see that he made the right decision. Halfway through the preseason, it had become apparent Jolly would make the team. The Packers kept seven defensive linemen, not counting outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid Mike Neal.

Nevertheless, Jolly said he was nervous as Saturday’s cuts approached.

“I was scared all the way up until the last minute,” Jolly said. “Like I said, it’s a blessing I’m here, and I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that for now, just focus on my work and getting the job done.”