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Jolly Standing Out In New Role


Even though the responsibilities for the Packers' defensive linemen in the 3-4 scheme have changed from last season, there still will be plenty of opportunities for them to make plays, something that defensive end Johnny Jolly showed in Sunday night's season-opening win over Chicago.

Jolly was able to do something he had never done in a regular-season game during his four years in Green Bay, posting an interception in the second quarter to halt a Bears' scoring drive at Green Bay's 12-yard line along with tying for the lead on the defensive line with seven tackles.

With Green Bay holding a 3-0 lead, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler connected with wide receiver Johnny Knox on a deep pass down the right sideline for a 68-yard gain all the way to Green Bay's 8. After the Bears failed to pick up any yardage on the next two plays, Jolly stepped in front of Cutler's short dump-off pass to running back Matt Forté to pick off the pass.

"We were running a little stunt and I got down into my gap," Jolly said. "When I got to my gap I kind of felt the tackle (Chris Williams) trying to throw me. I reacted to where the running back was going and it just so happened that he threw it my way and I was able to grab it."

It was a little more than just grabbing it, as Jolly dove and extended his left hand to make the one-handed catch. Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, a 15-year NFL coaching veteran, said he couldn't think of an interception by a defensive lineman that could top it.

"I haven't seen one like that," Trgovac said. "I've seen some guys snag some out of the air. Julius Peppers (coached by Trgovac in Carolina) had a great one that he snagged out of the air, but never with a guy diving with one hand like that. We don't work on that.

"The thing that was really neat about it is he's a very smart football player, and his awareness on that play that when that guy tapped him and let him go he knew that something was up. He didn't know what was up but he knew something was up. He stopped and was able to come down and I think that is a tribute to his athletic ability."

Jolly intercepted a pass in the preseason as a rookie in 2006 vs. Atlanta, but said he would have to go all the way back to his senior season at Forest Brook High in Houston for his last interception in a regular-season game. The pick was also the first by a Packers defensive lineman since Sept. 16, 2007, at the N.Y. Giants when Corey Williams intercepted Eli Manning, and Jolly's impressive catch drew praise in the film room from his teammates.

"They were saying all kinds of different things, like 'soft hands' and just different stuff about how good of hands I had or how good of a catch it was," Jolly said. "I think it displayed a little bit of what I can do athletically."

Jolly started all 16 games for the Packers last season at right defensive tackle and posted a career-high 82 tackles (50 solo) and five passes defensed, which tied for the lead on the defensive line. With Dom Capers taking over the defense this offseason and implementing the 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Jolly made the transition to defensive end.

"We just had to get in and see what this scheme was about and what technique we were going to be playing," Jolly said. "Once everybody found what we were playing and how we were playing it, we didn't have a problem with it because we know we had the athletes and the ability to play it."

How prominent a role Jolly would play in this year's defense was a little uncertain during OTAs and mini-camp as he ran with the No. 2 defense. With veteran Ryan Pickett settled in at nose tackle, first-round draft pick B.J. Raji worked at left defensive end with Cullen Jenkins on the right side on the first defense. But with Raji unsigned for the first two weeks of training camp, Jolly maintained a hold of his starting spot with a strong showing in the preseason that included two sacks, tied for tops on the team.

"I liked the fact that Johnny didn't back down to anyone," Trgovac said. "He wasn't going to just let somebody take that position from him. Competition makes everybody better and it is going to be that way the whole year. Whoever is having the best week of practice, and we're going to evaluate practice hard every week.

"Competition makes you good and it makes you not just sit back and relax. That's kind of his mentality; he's going to fight for what he believes is his."

For Jolly, practice has also included taking snaps at nose tackle, something he hadn't done since his freshman year at Texas A&M. With Raji sidelined for the opener due to an ankle injury, Jolly worked as the backup nose tackle to Pickett last week and has done so again this week in practice.

{sportsad300}Jolly played a career-high 60 snaps against Chicago with Jenkins also on the field for 60-plus plays. When Green Bay went to its nickel package against the Bears, both players stayed on the field as the two down linemen. Raji's status for Sunday against Cincinnati is not known, but when he is healthy, adding another contributor at end to the rotation should only benefit the defense.

"It will help those guys out big time, and Pickett too," Trgovac said. "You never know going into a game how Dom is going to handle the substitutions. Some games we may not play nearly as much nickel. Dom matched up some nickel to their regular personnel so we probably played more nickel than we'll usually play. We definitely need the rotation going."

The packages the defense is in will determine what the duties are for Jolly and the rest of the linemen, but there is no doubt that they will have a chance to make an impact in whatever is asked of them, even if that is tying up blockers to free up linebackers to make plays.

"I've been saying all along that there is a chance for guys to make plays in this defense," Trgovac said. "There will be other games where there won't be as many chances, and that doesn't mean they didn't play as well.

"There are certain defenses we have where maybe (Brandon) Chillar is making a play or (A.J.) Hawk or (Nick) Barnett or (Aaron) Kampman, and it was because we did a great job or the whole defense did a great job. It depends on the plays and everything that comes, but we're not going to be just stiffs in there. Sometimes we'll have to do that job and they are willing to do that."

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