With Raji out for the season, Packers look to young replacements

- (WFRV-TV) - The Packers made it through the majority of training camp without any major injuries to starters.

Leaving many who've experienced the past few seasons in Green Bay, with significant injury after significant injury, uneasy discussing the topic.

Ironically, Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji was asked about the offense and defense staying relatively healthy recently and said: "I guess it's knock on wood for that."

But all the wood knocking in the world couldn't prevent a season-ending biceps tear for Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji, according to multiple reports.

Raji, who was at practice in a sling Sunday, will have surgery soon.  He is not a candidate to be placed on the injured-reserve with a designation to return Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday.

"He was in the best shape, and having the best camp of his career," said McCarthy.   "B.J. has been such an anchor in there.  Particularly the way we've approached the defense this year.  So I'm counting on someone to step up."

The next man up at the position is Josh Boyd, a 5th round pick from a year ago who came on strong to earn playing time during the second half of last season.  Boyd was inserted with the first-team defense Sunday at a practice closed to the public, but open to media.

"This offseason I was preparing to just give this team more, try to help them more," said Boyd.  "With this (injury situation), I have to step up.  I've been preparing for it, and I'm ready for it. 

Boyd was slow out of the gate last year during camp and unable to help the team early on, but says that has changed in year two.

"Last year was a blur, trying to basically learning to try and play the game, learn the plays.  Now that I know the plays and how everything goes, it's a little bit easier for me."

This year's third round pick Khyri Thorton has yet to show much in camp or games, but undrafted free agent Mike Pennel has impressed coaches and teammates by making an impact during practice and the preseason. At 6'4 332, pounds he could provide some bulk for a now smaller defensive line without the 340 pound Raji, and behemoths Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly from a year ago.

"I can't really think about that right now, I'm still trying to make the 53 (man roster)," said Pennel.  "We still got cuts to make, and that's all I'm focused on right now is just practice and making the 53.  I feel like I've gotten better every day, so hopefully that just shows up on the field.  I've made a couple plays, but we still got one more game to go."

Veteran Letroy Guion was signed to back up Raji, but has yet to practice during camp due to a hamstring injury.  It appears the former Minnesota Viking is getting closer to being cleared, and he says it won't take him long to find his groove.

"You have to get out there, get in the rhythm, get the feel,  take on a couple of blocks, get the movement back," said Guion.  "It will be tough at first, but I'm a football player.  I'll get acclimated and get back in there."

The loss of Raji may be somewhat offset by the fact Dom Capers plays base defense, where Raji sees the majority of his playing time, less than 30% of the time.  Where he can't be replaced is in experience and leadership after having gone through the trench wars in the NFL for years.

"He's been in this league for a long time, so for him to stay here and continue to help us it will be a great help," said Boyd.

Missing the season is a tough break for Raji, who signed a one year, 4 million dollar deal in the offseason with hopes of earning a long term contract with improved performance back at his natural position.

"It's unfortunate on multiple ways," said WR Jordy Nelson.  "But I think he's more worried about obviously not being here to help us win games, and make a run at a Super Bowl.  Being on a one year deal is obviously a tough spot, but as long as he comes back healthy, he'll get another opportunity at that."

We'll have to wait and see if he gets that opportunity with the Packers, but for now Packers GM Ted Thompson and others at 1265 Lombardi Avenue will continue to knock on wood, or whatever it takes, in hopes this is the last starter the Packers lose for the season.

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