B.J. Raji's return provides an opportunity

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The one-year deal that B.J. Raji agreed to on Friday to return to the Green Bay Packers does a couple of things:

  • It gives Raji the chance to test the free-agent market again next season with the hope that he shows more productivity than he did in his disappointing 2013 season.

  • It allows the Packers to move Raji back to his natural position, nose tackle.

The two things could go hand in hand. Back at the spot where he had his most productive seasons in 2009 and 2010, Raji should be motivated to become a playmaker again. While Raji was solid last season in his role as a defensive lineman who occupied blocks, he rarely stood out as he did in his first two seasons, when he combined for 8.5 sacks (including the playoffs).

The Packers’ decision to move Raji back to the nose tackle likely was one of the reasons he was willing to return to Green Bay. Of course, the lack of interest on the free-agent market was clearly another.

However, it also represents a philosophical shift by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was asked shortly after the season why Ryan Pickett played more at nose tackle last season while Raji played more at end.

"They do different things better," Capers said at the time. "We play Raji at nose when he's head-up [over the center] in what we call zero-technique. He's a little bit better at that. Pickett has played a lot more of the tilted nose. We just felt the best combination when we were in the tilted nose [was] to play [Pickett at] the tilted nose and Raji in the 3-technique on the guard.

"When we went playing a balanced front, [we would] play Raji in the middle and Pickett out at the end. Tilted nose is a little to one side or the other [of the center]. That's a technique you have to work on to be able to deal with both the guard's and the center's blocks."

Like Raji, Pickett was in the final year of his contract last season. At age 34, Pickett's return remains uncertain, although he showed remarkable durability by playing in every game each of the past two seasons.

While Raji's productivity wasn't there last season, what helped him to return was the fact that he never publicly complained about his role.

"I'm a firm believer of your resume speaking for you," Raji said late last season. "And whatever's going to happen is going to happen."

What's going to happen now is that Raji gets to prove himself all over again.