Josh Boyd (left) and Mike Pennel (right) do drill work during Packers practice.
GREEN BAY - BJ Raji attended the Packers practice on Sunday, in lieu of a helmet and pads, Raji instead wore a sling. This is the new reality for the Packers. Their most accomplished defensive lineman limited to coaching his teammates."BJ has been such an anchor in here especially the way we approached defense this year," Mike McCarthy said. I'm counting on someone to step up.""With Raji out the next man up mentality puts Josh Boyd and undrafted Mike Pennel in the crosshairs. They say they can't try to be BJ Raji. They have to play to their own strengths.Boyd, in his second year out of Mississippi State, has come a long way in his knowledge of the playbook and what it takes to play at the NFL level. "With this I have to step up. I've been preparing for it and I'm ready for it," Boyd said. "Now it's just a little bit of a different learning curve but I feel like I'll still be able to step in there and be prepared."After being inactive for seven of the first nine games in 2013, McCarthy has seen Boyd step up. "I think Josh Boyd is getting better each and every week. I think you saw him come in at the end of the season and he's picked up where he left off."Boyd, at least on the depth chart is listed as a defensive end, he said he feels comfortable anywhere across the line, which Coach McCarthy agreed with. For undrafted rookie Mike Pennell, there's no mistaking, at 6-4 and 332 pounds, he's a 3-4 nose tackle. So why does he excel in that spot? "I feel like my strength, my athleticism, a lot of times where I'll mess up on a technique and make up for it with natural ability," Pennel said.Coach McCarthy has seen both Pennel's upside and his inexperience this preseason. "I think he had some good plays against Oakland then there are plays where you can see his youth. He just needs to be more experiences in a technical aspect of it so I think Mike is getting better," McCarthy said.Boyd and Pennel said the veterans, Raji and Letroy Guion have been instrumental in their improvement since joining the team."Him (BJ Raji) and Letroy have been teaching me everything about where to put my feet, where are my hands, how to read something on the guard or the tackle and I'm just learning the techniques from a veteran and I'm just glad they're open enough to share the tricks of the trade with me," Pennel said.Boyd added, "He's always been a guy who helps me and even today at practice he was helping me so you know I know he's a guy who's going to be there for me so I don't worry about that."Guion could be the ex-factor at the position. The former Viking has yet to practice this training camp but started all 28 games he played in over the past two seasons in Minnesota."You have to get out there and get in the rhythm get up the field take on a few blocks, get the movement back and it'll be tough at first but I'm a football player I'll get acclimated and get back in there," Guion said."He's getting close. He's chomping at the bit but it's a process," McCarthy added. Until someone emerges, the nose tackle position will indeed be a work in progress, and it will be a process to fill BJ Raji's shoes in the middle.
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