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Packers defense looks good, but faces loss of Raji

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By GENARO C. ARMAS, AP
Sat Aug 23, 8:36 PM UTC

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — After a nice showing by the starters, the Packers appear as if they will need to move forward this season without a key defensive lineman.

Nose tackle B.J. Raji left Green Bay's 31-21 win Friday night over Oakland in the first quarter with an arm injury, and later stayed on the sideline for a while with a sleeve protecting his right arm. Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that Raji was optimistic, although more tests were needed.

Raji tore his biceps and will miss the 2014 season, ESPN.com and NFL.com reported Saturday. The Packers, who were off Saturday, return to practice Sunday, when McCarthy will likely address what's next up front.

Raji moved inside from end this preseason, playing mainly in the base 3-4 scheme. The Packers also have second-year player Josh Boyd at tackle, while undrafted rookie free agent Mike Pennel has impressed at camp. Letroy Guion was signed in the offseason from the Vikings but hasn't practiced yet because of a hamstring injury.

The first-string defense looked good even with Raji watching. Linebacker A.J. Hawk hopes the performance overall bodes well for the regular season opener Sept. 4 against the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

''Right now we feel good. That doesn't mean anything if we won't take it to the regular season, obviously,'' Hawk said. The preseason wraps up Thursday night with a game against Kansas City.

It wasn't a perfect night for the starters against the Raiders given the 40-yard touchdown run by Oakland's Maurice Jones-Drew. A few missed tackles - a problem last season - aided Jones-Drew.

But the defense bounced back with four straight three-and-outs. When the Raiders finally got back into Packers territory late in the second quarter, Nick Perry sacked Matt Schaub and forced a fumble recovered by Mike Neal.

That's another promising development for Green Bay given how coach Mike McCarthy was looking for big plays.

''I think our No. 1 defense ... I think we dominated the line of scrimmage. Three-and-outs speak for themselves,'' he said.

Julius Peppers, who joined the Packers in the offseason as a free agent from the NFC North rival Chicago Bears, had a sack. The veteran with 118 1/2 career sacks wasn't that impressed with his preseason takedown.

''It was exciting,'' Peppers said with a hint of sarcasm, adding he's getting comfortable with the new scheme. ''I'm just trying to knock off a little rust before we get to these real games.''

Perry and Neal are returning rushers in the front seven. Clay Matthews is back, too, seemingly healthy against following a thumb injury last season.

Undrafted rookie free agent Jayrone Elliott followed up his three-sack game last week with a sack and pass deflection against Oakland. With the first cuts approaching, Elliott is trying to make the roster decisions at outside linebacker difficult.

There were good signs at safety, another problem area last season. Converted cornerback Micah Hyde bounced back from having missed one of the tackles on Jones-Drew's touchdown run with a solid game, including a pass deflection and fumble recovery.

Morgan Burnett lunged in the open field to tip away a pass. Sean Richardson forced a fumble.

''You've got to be happy with the way the defense bounced back,'' Hyde said. ''So you know it was tough that first drive, but after that I felt like we got some momentum and we tried to move in the right direction.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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