Raji: Pillar of strength in Packers' defense

Posted Dec. 12, 2010 @ 12:51 a.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

B.J. Raji remembers the high ankle sprain that hampered him for a good part of his rookie campaign as if it were yesterday.

"It was in the last preseason game on a 4th-and-1 situation," the Packers' starting nose tackle told PFW. "My leg got tangled up, and I just fell backward."

It was one of those "little things that happen to you up front," as Raji explained it, which ended up being a pretty big setback.

That's why this past offseason Raji worked his body hard in an effort to better handle those inevitable little twists and turns that pop up in the trenches and often turn into lingering injuries.

"I definitely worked on my flexibility, focusing on having better knee bend and movement in my hips," Raji said. "I did a lot of agility work with my personal trainer, lifting heavy weights but doing low reps to better simulate the game conditions I run into all the time, when I'm up against 2-3 guys."

No Packers player has held up as well as Raji, an unsung pillar of strength in his second season. While fellow starters Ryan Pickett and, most recently, Cullen Jenkins, have been forced in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries, Raji has been a rock.

The hyperbaric chamber Raji puts over his bed on most nights is partly responsible for the impressive endurance he has displayed the entire season.

"It takes the oxygen out of your lungs and forces them to work at a high capacity, the equivalent of being 13,000 feet above sea level," Raji explained.

Raji acknowledged the added difficulty the Packers' defense faces without Jenkins, who was playing his best game of the year when he injured his calf late in Week 13. But he has great confidence in the three reserves — Howard Green, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn — who will be counted on to pick up the slack in Jenkins' absence.

"Since joining us (in Week Eight), Howard has been a great help. He absorbs a lot of pressure," Raji said. "C.J. is a great young player. He's always willing to learn and wants to get better. He has a very quick first step and is explosive out of his hits.

"Jarius is built a little different, with longer arms and legs and tremendous power in his hand-striking. I think people are going to like what they see from him."