Monday, August 10, 2009

How Long Before Raji Becomes Irrelevant?

There's an elephant in the room, and no, I'm not talking in a literal sense.

We've all been grumbling and expressing concern over BJ Raji's extended holdout from the Packers, now going into its second week. Without a doubt, he's missed a lot of practice and install work with the defensive scheme, and even if he showed up for today's 2:00 practice, he'd still be a physcials and testing away from the field for any practical work.

But the elephant that I speak of is the increasing risk of injury, making BJ Raji an expensive liability to carry on a roster, and the rising likelihood he won't be a major contributor this season.

As a top-ten pick, there's always pressure on those rookies to be able to come in and at least contribute something right away. Certainly, given the question marks along the defensive front (Jolly's legal issues, Harrell's injury history, Jenkins' recovery), Raji was being projected at least as a major rotational player along the line, if not the straight-up starter next to Ryan Pickett.

There's been precious little information from Raji himself or on his workout regime. The last I heard was that he was hanging out at his house in Green Bay, waiting for his contract to get finalized. We have no idea with the big boy is spending his time doing some regular workouts or sitting on the couch, playing Madden and eating Cheetoes.

But even if he is working out, there's no substitution for the conditioning the comes with being in training camp. Last season, Ryan Grant claimed he was working out regularly and staying in game shape, but like nearly every other holdout over the years, he tweaked his hamstring once he came to camp and tried to jump into speed along with everyone else.

With every passing day, Raji become less and less relevant to the Green Bay Packers plans for 2009, Note Josh Sitton, last year's rookie who may have challenged for a starting spot in the preseason. Once injured, he never got the opportunity to pick up where he left off during the season, despite returning halfway through.

And while our defensive line really can't afford to shrink its depth any more, you start to wonder if Raji may have already reached a point of no (or little) return for 2009. His maturity was already in question coming out of Boston College, and his weight has fluctuated over his college career (over 350 pounds in 2006)

Why was he suspended academically in 2007? Seriously, how hard is it for a scholarship football player to pass his classes at a major university? Does Raji have the self-motivation to keep himself in shape while we wait another week or two for the rest of the first-rounders to sign?

The only winner in these situations are the agents, who are the ones setting this whole debacle up for these young kids blinded by dollar signs. The idea these agents are telling them that they need to hold out until "they get what they deserve"( i.e. $20M in guaranteed money instead of $15M despite never playing a down) is a huge sign that the draft pick signing paradigm needs to be turned on its nose and redone.

But, that is a discussion for another day. Today, we continue to await the arrival of what we hoped to be not only our starting defensive end, but our nose tackle of the future and the insurance policy for Justin Harrell own injury history.

And with each passing day, the need for Justin Harrell to blossom and stay healthy grows more and more, because Raji becomes less and less likely to make an impact in 2009.

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