GREEN BAY – Nick Perry was not the rookie outside linebacker who was the talk of the Green Bay Packers’ offseason.
No, that honor went to Dezman Moses, who played at two schools (Iowa, Tulane), joined the team as an undrafted free agent and worked his way into snaps with the No. 1 defense during organized team activity practices and the two-practice mandatory minicamp while star outside linebacker Clay Matthews was convalescing on the sideline.
Perry didn’t take the circuitous route to the No. 1 defense that Moses did. His path? The Packers took him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft (No. 28 overall) and installed him at left outside linebacker with the No. 1 defense from Day 1 of the post-draft rookie orientation camp and kept him there throughout OTAs and minicamp.
While Moses made for a compelling offseason story – and could very well emerge as a diamond in the rough who’ll boost the Packers’ pass rush – there’s no question that the team is relying on Perry to solidify the outside linebacker position opposite Matthews. In order to save wear-and-tear on Matthews on running downs, the coaches have moved him back to the right side, where he played as a rookie, which should reduce the amount of snaps he’ll spend trying to stop the run.
Given that most teams trend toward running to their right side, it makes sense for the 272-pound Perry to line up on the defense’s left, while the 255-pound Matthews works from the defense’s right.
“So (Clay) is going to have more opportunities with that to maybe rush the passer a little bit more in those passing downs,” outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene explained. “And when they do run, generally speaking they’ll be running toward a 272-pound outside ‘backer as opposed to Clay at 255.”
But Perry will also be counted on the supercharge a pass rush that ranked 27th in the league in sacks (29) and dead last in sack percentage (sacks per dropback) at 4.28 percent.
Perry’s biggest challenge, given that he spent his college career at USC at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, is learning how to play in space and drop in coverage – something that did not appear to come easily to him based on how he looked in the handful of practices open to the public and media. Matthews, by comparison, was at USC when the Trojans ran more of a 3-4 hybrid scheme and was adept at both rushing and covering when he arrived in 2009.
That said, Greene believes Perry has all the skills necessary to develop a solid all-around game.
“He’s got all the speed in the world to do it. He’s got the ability to do it. Now, it’s the ability to recognize the formation, understand your job and just get there,” Greene explained. “It’s a work in progress. Even my kids that have been here four years will miss something every once in a while. We’re not robots. But every day, he takes a step forward and increases his vision.”
Perry must emerge because last seasons, the alternatives opposite Matthews showed they were unable to consistently deliver. While Erik Walden started the first 15 games and was re-signed this offseason (with no signing bonus), he was so unimpressive that the coaching staff held open auditions entering the regular-season finale and gave Frank Zombo, Jamari Lattimore, Vic So’oto and Brad Jones all opportunities to win the job.
Now, it’s Perry’s job to lose. And while he may not have made a boffo first impression, that doesn’t mean he won’t be absolutely vital in 2012.
“I think it’s a good experience just being out there with those guys,” Perry said of his offseason work. “Everyone’s meshing. Everyone’s coming together as a team. I feel it. I want to be a part of that. Any opportunity I have, I just want to be a part of that and a part of the team.”
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