Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 7/16/12
This is the sixth in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers' July 26 start of camp.July 10: Quarterbacks July 11: Running backs July 12: Wide receivers July 13: Tight ends July 16: Offensive linemen July 17: Defensive linemen July 18: Linebackers July 19: Safeties July 20: Cornerbacks July 23: Specialists July 24: Coaches July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp July 26: Fans' guide to campTODAY'S POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINERating (1-to-10 scale): 6Projected starters: DE Ryan Pickett (12th season), NT B.J. Raji (4th season), DE Jerel Worthy (1st season)Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): Mike Daniels, Lawrence Guy, Anthony Hargrove, Phillip Merling, Daniel Muir, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Jarius WynnThe breakdown: After speaking with several players during the offseason workouts, two items are certain regarding Green Bay's defensive line for this upcoming season. First, that Worthy is going to be asked to do a lot right away. Second, that the Packers will be as much of a nickel defense as they are a 3-4 defense. When in nickel, it's going to be Worthy and Raji up front. In most circumstances, Pickett will not enter until defensive coordinator Dom Capers dials up his 3-4 scheme. When he does, Pickett, Worthy and Raji will be playing the majority of snaps along the line.Despite Raji's Pro Bowl status in 2011, his performance suffered last season due to playing too many snaps. Raji simply didn't have the same impact that he had during the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010. In fact, ProFootballFocus.com used its in-depth statistical analysis to determine that Raji was the worst defensive lineman in the entire NFL last season. However, Raji's ability is up there with the best in the league, especially at nose tackle. But being on the field too often can hurt production, and it happened to Raji. Part of correcting that was the addition of Worthy in the second round of the draft. Worthy was a projected late-first-round pick, so when he was still around at No. 51, general manager Ted Thompson went against his usual line of team building and traded up to get him.Thought it's difficult to take too much away from offseason practices with players wearing shorts and no shoulder pads, Worthy appeared to be the real deal. Everything that Green Bay's coaching staff and front office talked him up to be following the draft selection, Worthy was. He's big, but he's also fast and has an attitude about him that looks like the early makings of a future Pro Bowler. What a relief that must be for Raji, who now has another young stud next to him as they team up to try to wreak havoc and take up space against opposing offensive linemen. This is also good news for Pickett, who at age 32, is four years older than the next-oldest Packers defensive lineman. Pickett can still be effective, but as his career continues, it will have to be in spurts. Other than Worthy, it's difficult to tell just how much talent Green Bay added along the defensive line this offseason, but they certainly added big bodies. Muir, a former Packer, is back. Hargrove was added, despite his ties to the Saints bounty program -- which has him suspended for the first eight games of the regular season. Daniels was drafted in the fourth round despite existing shoulder injuries that kept him out of all offseason practices. And Merling, the 32nd overall pick in the 2008, who had been a relative bust with the Miami Dolphins thus far, was brought in. Given that large number of new faces, creating that level of competition should be good for the entire group. Best position battle: The starters appear set, but which backups will make the active roster? In what should be a tremendous training camp battle, Hargrove, Merling, Daniels and even Neal could all be possibilities for the last spot or two. It's fair to wonder whether Thompson has interest in keeping Hargrove, given his legal battles with the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell. If Hargrove doesn't wow the coaching staff, will the team determine that he's not worth the trouble and constant questions? Daniels was unable to show anything during OTAs and minicamp while he stood on the sidelines unable to participate with an injured shoulder, but the Packers knew of his injury status and still liked him enough to draft him in the fourth round. If healthy, Daniels should make a big push for a roster spot. Neal could be the most compelling of all. As the team's second-round pick just two years ago, Neal is now at the back of the depth chart -- a long fall from where he was a year ago -- and struggling through his own battle with the NFL office. The league suspended Neal for the first four games of the regular season due to what it called performance-enhancing substances, which Neal has since refuted while claiming he was just taking doctor-prescribed Adderall to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. If Neal can't work his way up the depth chart, it will be interesting to see how much longer he remains in Green Bay. Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Vikings; 2. Bears; 3. Lions; 4 Packers. While Green Bay is listed last in this ranking, a return to dominance for Raji and Worthy performing up to the level of his abilities could soon put the Packers near the top of this ranking within the NFC North. But at the moment, Minnesota's Jared Allen is the best pass-rushing defensive lineman in the entire NFL, with a league-leading 22 sacks last season. Chicago has Julius Peppers, who had 11 sacks last season, plus a rushing team defense that finished fifth-best in yards allowed in 2011. The Lions' defensive line struggled a bit last season, but with Ndamukong Suh anchoring the middle, they have the talent to recover from it. Raji says: "With me, it's different, because Trgo (defensive line coach Mike Trgovac) and Dom have high expectations for me. Some things that they'll accept from some other guys, they're always going to be hard on me about it. In 2010, we were a different defense and I obviously had more production. I guess I'll accept that my production dropped (in 2011)." Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.
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