Most teams would not take a gamble on a player freshly reinstated to the NFL after spending time in jail for attempting to sell prescription medicine. The Green Bay Packers decided their former star defensive tackled deserved the second chance at his professional football career, and awarded him with a one year contract this season. It appears the Packers gamble is already paying off after Jolly’s All-Star caliber performance against the St. Louis Rams Saturday night.
Johnny Jolly’s career was off to a promising start before his arrest in 2008 for possession of codeine with an intent to sell in Houston, Texas. Charged with a second-degree felony for having over 200 grams of the cough syrup on his person, Jolly would serve jail time and face an indefinite suspension from the NFL as a result. His addiction to ‘purple drank’, codeine cough syrup typically mixed with sprite and a Jolly Rancher candy, appeared to have ruined a blossoming career.
Reinstated in the NFL in February of 2013 following being released from prison and placed on probation in May of 2012, Jolly was able to again pursue a football career. The Packers, remembering his talent, offered a second chance to their former star.
Jolly provided the perfect opportunity for the Packers to gamble. Coming out of prison, the contract would not cost the Packers much. Signing Jolly for league minimum with nothing guaranteed, it was essentially a risk free chance at a Pro Bowl caliber lineman. If Jolly was out of shape, or lacked the abilities he once possessed, the team could cut ties with him and move on.
Except he has not lost his abilities. Jolly has come on strong of late, showcasing his play-making capabilities often in the Packers preseason victory over the Rams on Saturday.
Always a huge presence in the middle of the line, Jolly was a major factor in a run defense that held the Rams to a 2.4 yard per carry average and just 52 total rushing yards on Saturday night. There simply were no holes for the St. Louis backs to run through. Jolly may only have had two tackles, but he was a major reason for that.
Jolly showed he still is much more than simply a run stopper in the middle. He caused two huge turnovers in the game, making impact plays that the Packers defense lacked for much of the 2012 campaign. Jolly demonstrated he still has his uncanny ability to swat down passes at the line of scrimmage, batting down two passes on the night. One of those passes was tipped up in the air and into the hands of cornerback Jarret Bush for an interception.
In the red zone, Jolly even made an interception of his own after dropping back into coverage. How many lineman have that ability in their arsenal?
Perhaps energizing those around him is the biggest benefit Jolly can bring to the Packers defense this year. After his interception, everyone on the field went crazy congratulating him while the bench erupted in cheers. Jolly has the support of his teammates, who appear to be rallying around him.
Teammates appear genuinely happy for him, AJ Hawk praised him during a sideline interview, and Ryan Pickett explained how enjoyable it was to see his teammate succeed, stating “That was the funnest thing to see him play, just to see where he came from. He was just out there doing his thing. That was the best.”
Once a long shot to make the roster, Johnny Jolly’s play has shown that the Packers and Ted Thompson were smart to gamble on the former star. His comeback is in full stride as the regular season nears. He could be the X-factor in a defense that needs to improve if this team wants to contend for the Lombardi Trophy come January.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express