USC’s Perry expected to get to quarterbacks
By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – When push came to shove Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers went with the pass-rushing linebacker over the pass-rushing defensive end.
Their choice with the 28th selection in the first round of the National Football League draft was Nick Perry, a defensive end in a 4-3 defense at Southern California who will play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the Packers.
“Tremendous physical specimen,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “He’s 270 pounds and runs 4.5. At the end of the day, we felt this would be a very good addition.
He’s a physical guy, can set the edge and can rush the passer.”
Perry, 6 feet 2½ inches and 270 pounds, will be given every opportunity to start opposite Clay Matthews. Perry was a redshirt freshman at USC in 2008 when Matthews was a senior.
When Green Bay made the pick, the pool of remaining outside linebackers included Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, who did play in a 3-4, and Clemson’s Andre Branch and Marshall’s Vinny Curry, both of whom played primarily at end in 4-3 defenses and would have faced the same conversion that Perry will.
“There will be a transition,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He has played with his hand down more than he has standing up. But that’s not uncommon for us in this defense. The first thing we look for is a guy’s ability to rush the passer.”
The Packers ranked 32nd in sack percentage last season after ranking third in 2010 when they won the Super Bowl. Erik Walden played most of the season at the right outside position, but Frank Zombo, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Vic So’oto all saw time, too.
Those five players remain under contract, but none of them can hold a candle to Perry in terms of sheer speed and athletic ability.
“In our Super Bowl year we rushed the quarterback as well as anybody in the league,” Capers said. “Last year we weren’t pleased really with either area (rush or coverage).
“We’re looking to get back to work and get back to pressuring the quarterback like we did a couple years ago.”
When the three elite cornerbacks were taken by the 17th pick, the Packers had no chance to address their need there.
The release of Nick Collins Wednesday leaves the Packers deficient at safety, but they decided not to pick Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith, who went on the 29th pick to Minnesota.
Green Bay’s other dominant need on defense was defensive end, where Ryan Pickett is aging and players such as Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal have been mediocre performers, at best.
By the 28th pick, the cluster of defensive ends included Penn State’s Devon Still and Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes.
At the same time, guard-tackle Cordy Glenn of Georgia and center Peter Konz of Wisconsin certainly would have been of interest.
More than likely, however, the choice came down to Perry against Still and Reyes.
“We had a number of players at different positions that were rated about the same,” Thompson said, referring to when the Packers were on the clock. “We felt like that was the right pick to make at the time.”
Was the pick borne of need?
“No, not need,” he said. “Just the right pick for our team right now.”
Perry, a native of Detroit, is a fourth-year junior who started 22 of 37 games at strong-side end. He finished with 103 tackles (29½ for loss), 21½ sacks and five forced fumbles.
Although Perry almost never played from a two-point stance, Thompson said there was evidence of it on tape when he did move around.
The key in the evaluation process when scouts try to determine if a collegiate end can become an NFL linebacker occurs in the position drills at the combine. It’s a highly subjective and critical decision, and Thompson expressed no doubt about Perry’s capacity to adjust.
“I thought he’d be OK at it,” said Thompson. “We’ll figure out a way to play him.”
Both Thompson and Capers were more than just impressed by Perry’s superlative workout numbers. He ran 40 yards in 4.58 seconds, his vertical jump was 38½ inches, his broad jump was 10-4 and he bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times.
The only hybrid player in the draft with a faster 40 than Perry was West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin, who ran 4.45 at 246 pounds.
In 2009, Matthews (6-3, 245) ran 4.61, had jumps of 35½ and 10-1, and did 23 reps on the bench.
“We think he has the speed to come off the corner,” said Capers. “We think he can convert speed to power and rush the passer.
“We’ve seen him be very physical on linemen and tight ends with his hand down. He’s got good hip flexibility. ”
Whereas Matthews scored 27 on the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test, Perry tallied 29.
“Yes, he’s very sharp,” Thompson said. “Very good person. Alonzo (Highsmith, a Green Bay area scout) was the group leader in his group at the combine and said he was very genuine, very good with other players, that sort of thing.”
Thompson said the Packers had normal trade talks to go up and down in the trade. When the Packers’ pick arrived, he described it as a united room.
“We discussed other players,” he said. “Everybody felt good about the way we went. It was pretty much done by then and it was, ‘Here’s our guy.'”
In 2008, the Trojans switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to accommodate their four outstanding linebackers. They moved back to a 4-3 during Perry’s two years as a starter. Perry played on both sides.
“I’m not going to compare them,” said Thompson. “They’re on the same team now. I don’t think you can compare a guy coming into the league with a guy like Clay Matthews. I don’t think that’s fair. For either one of the fellas.”
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