Jolly Continues To Knock Them Down

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Defensive end Johnny Jolly etched his name in the franchise record book last Sunday with two more passes defensed in the Packers' 48-10 win over Seattle, and he credits one of his greatest skills on the football field to another sport he played.

Jolly's two batted passes against the Seahawks gave him 11 for the season, the most ever by a Packers defensive lineman since the team began recording the statistic in 1980. According to STATS, he also leads all NFL defensive linemen in the category, with Buffalo's Marcus Stroud and the New York Giants' Justin Tuck ranking second with eight each.

"It's just like basketball," Jolly said, who lettered three times in that sport at Forest Brook High in Houston. "It's like blocking shots, like Dwight Howard or LeBron James. It's just all about reaction and getting that push toward the quarterback.

"Sometimes you can't get to the quarterback to make a sack or get a hit on him, so you've got to get your hands up when you see him release the ball. You've got to know the down-and-distance, if he's going long or going short. That's all it is."

Jolly's mark of 11 passes defensed broke the previous team high registered by his teammate, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who batted down nine passes in 2007.

"Actually during the game we were sitting on the sideline and Jenks (Jenkins) was like, 'Man, you broke my record,'" Jolly said. "I said, 'What are you talking about?' I didn't have a clue. I didn't even know they kept that stat. It's a good thing that I broke it, but hopefully I can get more."

Jolly's first batted pass last Sunday came in the first quarter on a Matt Hasselbeck screen pass intended for running back Julius Jones in the right flat. Jolly freed himself from right tackle Ray Willis, tipped the ball with his right hand, and nearly hauled it in for his second interception of the season as he fell to the ground.

"I was mad at myself that I didn't pick it because I knew that it was a screen from the jump," Jolly said. "I knew the formation, I knew the down-and-distance, and I knew they liked to run that. When I came off the ball I held myself a little bit because it was kind of too free, and he actually threw it right at me. I should have caught it."

According to Jolly, that ability to recognize what opposing offenses are trying to do comes from his nearly four years of experience in the league as well as the time he puts in studying his opponent during the week.

"Johnny is one of the guys who can look at a formation, look at a stance of the player, and 90 percent of the time be right on where the play is going just by what he sees pre-snap," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "That's a big plus and that comes from watching tape and just having some instincts."

While Jolly wasn't able to come up with the turnover on the first batted ball Sunday, he made up for it on the very next series. With the Seahawks trailing 14-0 and taking over at their own 26-yard line, Hasselbeck quickly moved Seattle deep into Green Bay territory.

Facing a 3rd-and-6 at the Green Bay 8, Hasselbeck threw to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the middle of the end zone, only to have it tipped by Jolly's left hand and redirected into the arms of safety Atari Bigby for an interception at the goal line. Jolly was one of two down linemen along with Jenkins in the Packers' nickel defense, and fought off right guard Chris Spencer and center Max Unger to get his hand up and force the turnover.

"When I am in there with Jenks, I know he is going to give an excellent pass rush," Jolly said. "There aren't too many guys that can pass rush like him. I pretty much let him go. A lot of times I'll take the double team or try to get him to the side for a single block and take the double.

"Most of the time he is getting pressure so the quarterback has got to step up and throw it in my direction. He helps me out a lot."

Jolly's ability to knock down balls is nothing new as he has posted five passes defensed in each of the last two seasons. At Texas A&M, he knocked down six passes as a junior in 2004 after posting eight passes defensed as a sophomore, including four in one game against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White of Oklahoma.

"We always try to tell them if you can't get there to get your hands up," Trgovac said. "But there are some guys that just have a knack for it, and he's one of those guys who can kind of tell when the quarterback is going to release. He can tell when his rush has been stopped and he can't get there.

{sportsad300}"He just has a fine knack for it, because he doesn't jump ... it's not like we tell them not to jump all the time for passes, and sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. It's a more natural thing with him than something we coach a whole lot of."

Making the transition from defensive tackle to end in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Jolly has posted his most productive all-around season as a pro in his new role. He has started every game and leads the defensive line with 70 tackles and two fumble recoveries, along with a sack, an interception and a forced fumble.

Jolly entered training camp in a competition with rookie B.J. Raji, the ninth overall selection, for the starting left end spot. Raji didn't agree to a contract until two weeks into camp and then sustained an ankle injury in the preseason finale that limited him early on this season. Jolly produced on the field with two sacks in the preseason, which tied for the team lead, but it was how he approached Raji's arrival that also impressed his position coach.

"One thing I've always told Johnny, I respect him for, he never flinched, came in here and worked his butt off," Trgovac said. "He had a first-round draft choice, B.J. was sitting right behind him in there, and Johnny never thought twice about it. Johnny just loves football.

"He never flinched, he never (complained). He knew he had a young kid that was right behind him, and you know how this league goes, when you're a first-round draft choice, you're going to get those opportunities, and he never thought twice about it."

Jolly said he never had any animosity toward the team for bringing in Raji, instead calling the move a way "for us to be the best team we can be." The rotation of Jolly, Jenkins, Raji and veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett has contributed greatly to Green Bay's No. 1 ranking in the NFL against the run, a spot that Green Bay has never held at the end of a season in franchise history. With just 1,285 rushing yards allowed through 15 games (85.7 per game), the Packers also have a shot at the franchise record of 1,363 yards given up in 1994 (85.2 per game).

"That's big because when we first started that was our main thing, to be the No. 1 run defense in the league," Jolly said. "Now that it's here, we've really got to get it. We've got to keep these guys under 78 yards too (for the team record). That's our mentality and we're going out there to do it."

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