It wasn’t that long ago – 2009 to be exact – that Green Bay had the number one run defense in the National Football League. Since then, the Packers have plummeted to 18th, 11th, 17th, 25th and halfway through last season dead last at 32nd before rallying behind the move of Clay Matthews to inside linebacker to finish the season in 23rd place.Much has changed over that time – except for defensive coordinator Dom Capers – and many players have come and gone. But only one has come and gone and come again to help the defense stop the opponents and get the ball back into the hands of the potent Packers offense.

The return of nose tackle B.J. Raji, a rookie on that 2009 team, to the defensive starting line-up is as important to the Packers’ championship push this season as Aaron Rodgers is to the offense.

Raji, 29, is back and 10 pounds lighter than his previous playing weight of 337 after missing the entire 2014 season with torn right biceps sustained during a pre-season game. And he’s back at his true position – nose tackle – after playing defensive end for most of the previous three seasons.Hesigned a one-year deal in March for $3.5 million with incentives that would earn him up to $4 million, and so far he’s looked like the Raji of 2009.

“I think B.J. is in a great place,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told the team website.

“I thought last year was his best training camp. He’s in great shape. He looks great.”

McCarthy realizes that the team’s run defense must improve if the Packers want to return to the Super Bowl ahead of the Seattle Seahawks with Marshawn Lynch, the Arizona Cardinals with Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson, and maybe even the Minnesota Vikings with Packers tormenter Adrian Peterson.

Resigning defensive end Letroy Guion, getting another solid season from DE Mike Daniels and allowing Clay Matthews to return to his natural outside linebacker position with the addition of Sam Barrington at inside linebacker are important moves that strengthen the Packers’ D. But getting B.J. back to plug the middle is the biggest move – both literally and figuratively.

In his five NFL seasons, Raji has recorded 129 tackles (90 solo) and 10½ sacks. What isn’t recorded are the number of times Raji has disrupted running plays, caused havoc in the backfield, and forced teams to run outside.

If he can find the strength and quickness he displayed early in his career and even last year in training camp before he was injured, Raji may be the “new” player that reminds every one of the “old” Raji that burst onto the scene six years ago. And with two-point conversions in vogue this season, putting Raji in the backfield for a 2-yard carry up the gut (he scored a TD in 2011 as a RB) wouldn’t be a bad idea on fourth down or in the red zone.

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