Injury-shortened season leaves Perry’s fit at linebacker uncertain
By Pistol Pete Dougherty Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – Nick Perry’s rookie season wasn’t a total injury washout, but the Green Bay Packers still can’t say he’s successfully made the transition from a college defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
The first-round draft pick opened last season as the Packers’ starter at left outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews but split time with Erik Walden and Dezman Moses through the first six games. A knee injury sidelined Perry for three weeks, and then his season ended when he had surgery on an early-season wrist injury that wasn’t healing.
Playing through the wrist injury and then missing the final 10 games meant Perry had minimal impact on the Packers’ 2012 season: His 198 snaps on defense was less than one-third as many as Walden (766) and less than half as many as the undrafted rookie Moses (436). In his six games, Perry had two sacks and 29 tackles.
Team doctors cleared Perry in April for all workout and football activities, and he is the presumptive starter opposite Matthews with the beginning this week of organized team activities. His mandate this offseason is to lose a little weight so he can better fit the hybrid outside pass rush and coverage skills the Packers look for in outside linebackers.
Though Perry was a good pass rusher in college at USC (21½ sacks in three seasons), he also was big for an outside linebacker. At the NFL scouting combine he weighed 271 pounds, which suggested his best NFL position would be as a strong-side defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
Perry’s sacks production and physical testing persuaded the Packers he was athletic enough to play outside linebacker in their 3-4. But his thick build through his legs and power-rushing style suggest he just as easily could have gone the other way in a 3-4 scheme by adding more weight and playing as a defensive end who moves to an inside rusher on passing downs.
“I’m an outside linebacker,” Perry said this week after an OTA practice. “I’m playing the position I was made to play.”
Just like last season, the Packers are listing Perry’s weight at 265 pounds, which makes him their heaviest outside linebacker. For comparison, the next heaviest is undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba (260 pounds), followed by Matthews (255), undrafted rookie Donte Savage (252), Moses (249) and sixth-round draft pick Nate Palmer (248).
Perry wouldn’t confirm his weight but suggested it was slightly less than last season and that he’d like to get a little lighter to help his endurance. He also indicated losing more weight could be difficult for a player who’s naturally thick through the haunches.
“I want to feel more comfortable where I’m at, and right now I’ve lost a little weight just to feel more comfortable playing linebacker and playing the schemes,” he said. “Certain things I can’t lose, some things stick with me more than others. I have to work harder to get some of that off, but just losing weight period would make my body feel a whole lot better.”
Perry is more a power than quickness player, which is why some scouts questioned how well he could make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker. Last year, he was mostly one-dimensional as a bull rusher, which in part was playing to his strength and in part a function of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ calls.
Capers often likes his outside rusher opposite Matthews to bull rush to help squeeze the pocket and reduce the quarterback’s escape lanes, which can help Matthews. Even Matthews does his share of bull rushing, and it’s something the Packers are likely to use extensively against the league’s most mobile quarterbacks to prevent them from breaking the pocket for big runs.
Perry expects to base his rushing off power again this year.
“Keeps (tackles) on edge, and then I can work moves,” he said. “I want to collapse the pocket and help my brothers make plays as well, it’s not just a me thing out there, it’s for the team. Collapse the pocket, put a little (pressure) on the quarterback from the front side. He sees what I’m doing at all times, so he has to honor what I’m doing.”
With Walden departed to Indianapolis in free agency this offseason, and with Capers’ mixing and matching personnel for different defensive packages, Moses probably will get his share of snaps even if Perry gets the majority. Palmer and Mulumba also will get their chances in offseason practices and training camp to show if they can upgrade the pass rush.
“I’m working to be an every-down guy,” Perry said, “but given that we’re all young and we’re all coming up — obviously Clay has a spot all locked, so all the young guys are trying to compete for that (other) spot, it’s just competition for the other side. “
Said Moses: “I’m very excited about it. I had a chance and a great opportunity to play some last year and get some experience. Coming into this year, I’m definitely more confident.”
In the one OTA practice open to reporters this week, Perry was wearing a protective cast on his left hand and wrist. He injured the wrist in the second game last season and tried to play through it, but it slowly got worse until he the knee injury sidelined him for three games.
Team doctors found he had a small broken bone and a torn ligament at the base of the back of his hand, so he had surgery to replace a pin in his wrist. That ended his season and limited his offseason workouts until he was cleared in April.
Full story here