Raji flunks ankle test: Backup nose tackle sits out practice

GREEN BAY -- If nose tackle is the most important position in the 3-4 defense, the Packers might have a little adversity to overcome when their unit makes its regular-season debut Sunday night.

GREEN BAY -- If nose tackle is the most important position in the 3-4 defense, the Packers might have a little adversity to overcome when their unit makes its regular-season debut Sunday night.

First-round draft pick B.J. Raji, the only reserve at nose tackle behind starter Ryan Pickett, was one of three players to sit out practice Wednesday.

The team tested Raji's left ankle, which he sprained Sept. 3 against the Arizona Cardinals, on Tuesday with the hope he would be able to practice.

"It did not go as well as we would have hoped," coach Mike McCarthy said.

He said the plan is for Raji to test it again. Passing it would be the first step. The team then would need to see how he feels the next day before his playing status against the Chicago Bears could be determined.


Raji has not made himself available to the media since Sept. 1.

Johnny Jolly, the starter at left end, has been taking snaps in practice at nose tackle.

Jolly was a tackle in the previous 4-3 scheme, but the responsibilities are much different. Jolly was expected to use his quickness to penetrate the line and generate a pass rush opposite Pickett, who was the run plugger.

In the 3-4, the nose tackle solely takes up blockers. Strength, not quickness, is the preferred skill. The nose must hold the point of attack or else the run defense could collapse.

"It's just football," Jolly said when asked whether he can play the nose. "As long as I have my technique and my timing down, I'll be all right. Whatever is going to make the defense fit is going to be good for us, so that's what I'll do."

Jolly said he played the two-gap nose tackle position his freshman year at Texas A&M.

"It was pretty much the same," Jolly said.

"We don't know what the situation is right now, but hopefully (Raji will) be out there for the game. But we're out there practicing, and we've got guys stepping up and practicing hard."


Injury report: In addition to Raji, cornerback/kick returner Will Blackmon (right quadriceps) and running back Brandon Jackson (left ankle sprain) also did not practice.

Blackmon will test his leg Thursday. "Big day for Will," McCarthy said.

If Blackmon can't play, Jordy Nelson would step in on punts and kickoffs. Cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson also would be options.

"I feel real comfortable," said Nelson, who returned 11 kickoffs but no punts as a rookie last year. "Did a little bit in college and then the preseason a little bit (one return for 10 yards). I'm always catching punts in practice, just to keep in the routine. I look forward to it.

"Obviously, we want (Blackmon) back, he's a threat whenever he gets his hands on the ball. But if he can't, I look forward to stepping in there and hopefully doing a lot of what he can do."

Jackson is making "slow progress," McCarthy said.

In Jackson's absence, DeShawn Wynn is the lone backup running back. Fullback John Kuhn could be the emergency/short-yardage back.

Inside info: The agent who represents Brett Favre also represents Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and the two players are known to speak with one another on occasion.


"I know him," Cutler said. "I've talked to him a few times. I'm not going to call him up out of the blue, but if I need something, I could call Brett."

So has he asked Favre, now with the Minnesota Vikings, to give him a scouting report on the Packers?

"No, it's hard to scout them," Cutler said. "They've got a whole new defense and whole new scheme, so it's hard to nail them down. Personnel-wise, we know kind of what kind of guys they've got and what they like to do, but scheme-wise it's a little bit different."

Armed and ready: McCarthy said he did have a couple of players in mind to play emergency quarterback if Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn were injured, but he wasn't saying whom.

Asked whether he might be one of the players McCarthy tabs for the position, cornerback Charles Woodson said, "Not that I know of." But, he joked, "I'm on the ready list, in case they need me. I'm ready. I'm in the hole."

Woodson said it sounded like a job he could embrace.

"Yeah, I could do a little 'Wildcat.' I'm in the bullpen, I'm warming up."

Firewall: When a reporter asked Bears coach Lovie Smith on a conference call whether injured cornerback Charles Tillman (back) might be able to play Sunday, Smith acted as if he had been asked to divulge a national secret.


"You'd like for me to tell you whether Charles is going to get some action?" Smith replied.

"Yes, I would," the reporter said.

After asking the reporter his name, Smith said, "I think I'll just pass on that question. I think you can understand why."

Tillman was a full participant in practice later that day for the Bears. Tackle Israel Idonije (hamstring) was limited.

-- Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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