When the Green Bay Packers selected Clay Matthews with the 26th selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Packers had an idea of what they were getting. Since then Matthews has risen to superstar level and is one of the best outside linebackers in the game, and no doubt the face of Packers' defense.
Unfortunately, for Matthews' sake, the Packers have failed to address the OLB starting opposite of Matthews for quite a few years. Players such as Aaron Kampman, Brady Poppinga, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Vic So'to have all been given a shot to man the position for the last four years. All these players were serviceable, but none of them were able to capture the opportunity to start with one of the best pass rushers in the game.
Last year Ted Thompson and the Packers coaching staff finally decided to draft an OLB for the future, and with the 28th pick in the first round they selected Nick Perry out of USC. Coming into the 2012 draft Perry was looked at as more of a 4-3 defensive end, but the Packers saw an extremely athletic big man who could transition into a 3-4 OLB.
Perry was a big OLB for any system when drafted, standing at 6'3" and weighing in at 271, but his athleticism was outstanding. Perry possesses excellent length with 33 inch arms, and he ran a 4.64 forty-yard dash with 35 repetitions of 225-pound bench press at the NFL combine. Even with this athleticism, the Packers and Perry understood that the 2012 season would be a work in progress.
It is not easy switching from a rush defensive end to a stand-up OLB, but the Packers plan was to start Perry from the beginning and let him develop over time. Perry would encounter struggles but this would help him develop and grow in Capers’ system.
Perry only played in six games his rookie season (five starts), and he compiled 18 tackles and two sacks. His numbers didn't jump off the stat sheet, and the injury seems to have made Packers fans to forget about their first round pick last year.
Perry's rookie season was not a complete disaster though. Even though he only played in six games, Perry gained valuable time that allowed him to grasp the defense and begin his transition to OLB. Perry showed the ability to hold his own on the NFL level, and he was solid in the run game. Even though his sack number was low, Perry still generated a solid pass rush with eight quarterback pressures. His best play ended in a questionable roughing the passer call against him, as he rocked Andrew Luck and left him fazed.
So far in training camp Perry has been solid on the outside. Similar to Mike Neal, Perry also dropped his weight (down from 271 to 265) in order to move better at OLB. Throughout camp Perry has been a force against the run and Packers offensive linemen have struggled to move him off the ball. He is a stout defender, and he is able to use his strength to get under O-linemen and push the pocket.
Perry does seem to lack a signature pass rushing move that most elite OLBs have. Perry uses his strength over and over again to beat linemen, and he is quite good at it, but Perry has to work on being a quicker off the ball and developing a spin move, swim move and stronger arm rip. The next step in Perry's game is getting off lineman once he pushes them several yards into the backfield.
Perry also will need more experience in man and zone coverage. His coverage ability was one of the biggest concerns when he moved to OLB, and Perry did struggle at times in 2012 trying to adjust to standing up and dropping into coverage. The Packers should be able to hide this weakness and utilize Perry in situations he will be most successful, due to their depth at safety (Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillan) and corner (Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Sam Shields, Davon House, Micah Hyde).
With a clean bill of health, the Packers expect Perry to make a much bigger impact this coming season. Perry will look to team with another former USC linebacker in Matthews, and hopefully the attention given to Mathews will aid Perry this season. There is no question that Perry can be a solid run defender and a physical force on the defense, the question remains if Perry can develop into a dynamic pass rusher off the edge.
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