Packers excited by Nick Perry’s potential : Packers Insider

Packers excited by Nick Perry’s potential

January 19, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel

~His eyes widened and his voice, his demeanor, remained intense. Yes, Kevin Greene’s spirits were still high after the Green Bay Packers’ early postseason exit.

For good reason, too. In four years, the outside linebackers coach has been given two first-round protégés. One was an instant cornerstone. Next to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, no player means more to the Packers than Clay Matthews. 

Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry (53) lays on the ground after being injured against the Houston Texans in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

The other? Time will tell. Nick Perry could be special. He could flame out.

This off-season may mean more to the Packers’ 2012 first-round pick than anyone else.

“He just has to come back highly motivated and ready to go, ready to take the bull by the horns,” Greene said. “Just come in with the right attitude and be ready to do his thing.”

The Packers’ defense lacks star power. The unit is stocked with youth, with potential, but had no All-Pro selections. San Francisco had four. Sure, management could mine free agency for a difference-maker. But general manager Ted Thompson probably would much rather see the boom-or-bust Perry break out.

Learning a new position – transitioning from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker – Perry was up and down through his abbreviated season. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder battled wrist and knee injuries through six games before heading to injured reserve. He’s a physical and athletic marvel. Yet one NFC scout also likened Perry to Vernon Gholston, one of the biggest recent draft busts.

In Perry, the Packers gambled for greatness. How he approaches Year 2 may be as important to Green Bay’s defense as any personnel decision. A plus-sized, menacing linebacker certainly would have helped in last week’s 45-31 loss to the 49ers.

“We’re going to get him in there and see what he does,” Greene said. “We want him to come back healthy and ready to go.”

Day 1 at minicamp, Perry was penciled in as the starter. Not Erik Walden. As expected, there were growing pains. In a two-point stance, his pre-snap checklist multiplies. His vision totally changes. Perry finished with 18 tackles, two sacks, and – not surprisingly – was tentative at times.

Last April, Green Bay could have played it safe with an offensive lineman, a safety, someone who didn’t draw “effort” concerns.

The NFC scout said this week that when he watched film of Perry at USC, there “was a play or two here or there” that stood out. And at the NFL scouting combine Perry did run 4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a vertical leap of 38½ inches. But the scout added that over an entire game on film, “I didn’t see anything I was excited about.” His team gave Perry a second-round grade.

“When I saw Nick, I saw more of a Vernon Gholston,” said the scout, referencing the sixth overall pick in 2008 who is now out of the NFL. “Had a great combine – great numbers, great physical measurements, but not a consistently explosive athlete. And that’s kind of a misnomer. It kind of confuses you because you look at the numbers and he jumps real high and runs real fast, you’d think he’d be explosive. But he never turned it on that way.

“(Perry) never showed that kind of ‘juice’ off the edge to really threaten. So I kind of worry about that.”

Still, there were those “flashes” at USC, he said. And that’s where the Packers come in.

With the right culture and the right coaches, “flashes” can manifest into something greater. Thompson, in essence, trusted the staff to make Perry great.

“I would imagine that somewhere along the line,” the scout said, “that either (Dom) Capers or Greene would say, ‘Listen, I can get this kid to play better.’ ”

Capers and Greene feel they have the 2 star bookends at OLB that they need. It's just a matter of Perry staying healthy, and being 100% motivated, determined, and dedicated towards greatness.

The Packers could use another player offensive coordinators must fear. For the New York Giants in 2011 and the 49ers this season, that’s been the key. Not to mention a potentially changing NFL.

If the read option offense gains momentum, Green Bay will need athletic linebackers.

“With Nick’s athletic ability – you’ve got to put as athletic a team out there as possible because they’re going to challenge you on the perimeter,” Capers said. “You’ve got to be able to get us back to assignment football.”

Greene, a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist with 160 career sacks and 23 forced fumbles, sounded optimistic this week.

The former outside linebacker said Perry proved to him that he can rush the passer and cover receivers. The coach cited one play against Indianapolis where Perry covered Reggie Wayne vertically up the seam and “did it perfectly.” The coach added that the powerful Perry knocked tight ends 2 yards into the backfield.

The physical tools that attracted Green Bay in the first place were, in spurts, on display.

“He can be physical. He can rush the passer,” Greene said. “He can do the whole spectrum of this position. He just needs to come back with a good mind-set and go get it.”

So often, that’s precisely what separates the Gholstons from the Pro Bowl players. The scout never spoke to Perry personally. His comparison to the New York Jets’ bust is based purely on college film. But he said the intangibles for such outside linebackers with 4.5, 4.6 speed – drive, motivation, “a good mind-set” as Greene said – matters more than outsiders realize.

“Vernon didn’t have the competitive desire at any point to make himself great,” the scout said. “He had all the attributes. He had a great coaching staff that was willing to work with him and utilize him in a bunch of different positions. He just didn’t have the wherewithal to, down in and down out, practice hard and make himself great.

“You really need to learn how driven that person is. And do you have the culture in your building to teach and maximize the available tools that the player has?”

In Capers, Greene and Matthews, the Packers hope the culture is in place.

In that same Colts game, Perry drilled quarterback Andrew Luck with the tractor-trailer force Greene craves.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is hit by Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry (53) during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Perry was called for unnecessary roughness, a 100% bogus call. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

He was flagged and fined for the hit. But this was the intimidating presence that suggests Perry isn’t Gholston. For other stretches, Perry was slow in coverage and a non-factor as a pass rusher. Walden had a more explosive first step to wheel around tackles

Greene reiterated that this is a major transition. At USC, Perry was used to “going forward 100% of the time.” Now, Greene said Perry’s standing up, expanding his vision and trying to “capture all five eligibles.”

Before the snap, shifts, motions and new alignments change Perry’s job on the fly.

“All of that has to be,” said Greene snapping his fingers four times, “like that.”

That part of the job will come. The key now may be motivation. Greene brought that word up multiple times.

Come late July, the Packers hope their first-round gamble begins to pay off.

“It’s not like he’s going to come in and be Lawrence Taylor,” the NFC scout said. “He had an opportunity to essentially redshirt the year and try to come back, re-establish himself and see if Year 2 is different than Year 1. You’re hoping for that. They need that.”

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