Despite Preseason, So'oto Stuck on Sideline

The undrafted rookie free agent showed in the preseason that he can be a playmaker for the defense, which it needs given the lack of splash plays by their OLBs. Now, he just needs to get up to speed in another area for a shot to take down quarterbacks in the regular season.

Life can be a test of patience for most NFL rookies, especially for those who are impatient like Vic So'oto.

The Green Bay Packers' first-year outside linebacker, who figured to have an impact in pass rush situations after a big preseason, has yet to make a ripple through seven games this season.

The problem has been a lack of playing time. So'oto has been activated for just two games, which has been a challenge for him since he is known as a guy with energy to burn.

"I'm really champing at the bit to get out there and get after someone that's not wearing a Green Bay jersey," said So'oto. "It's been frustrating, but my role is my role. We're undefeated and I'm definitely excited to be here.

"I really can't control what kind of reps I get and I've never been a guy to try and lobby to play, just because we're 7-0 and the guys in front of me have done a great job. So, for me, it's more of taking advantage of the opportunities when they do arise. So, I'm just excited to be here, be undefeated, and hopefully keep rolling. If the opportunity does arise, I'll make the most of it."

A back injury, suffered while working out in the week leading up to the season opener against the Saints, curtailed some of So'oto's momentum coming out of the preseason. But since then, he has been a healthy scratch on most game days.

His ticket to getting on the field the second half of the season and possibly helping the Packers' pass rush has nothing to do with his ability on defense, however.

"The first vehicle to getting on the field (as a younger player) is special teams," said coach Mike McCarthy. "That's been a big focus for Vic. He had the injury at the beginning of the year, missed some time, which is important not only for the reps on special teams, but for the opponent's reps and so forth. He's doing a good job progressing as far as his outside linebacker responsibilities, but special teams is the best way to get on (the field). He's competing each week to be a part of the 46."

Injuries, personnel at certain positions, and game planning play a large part in McCarthy putting together the active roster for each game. So'oto got a chance to suit up the last time out at Minnesota because of a shoulder injury to fellow undrafted rookie Jamari Lattimore, who has been active the five games So'oto has not.

Lattimore's play on special teams has given him the edge over So'oto. In Week 1, he made a big block on Randall Cobb's 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and against the Bears on Sept. 25, he was awarded a special teams game ball for helping limit dangerous return man Devin Hester.

So'oto made his first tackle on special teams at Minnesota, taking down the equally dangerous Percy Harvin. He has been working diligently on the coverage units in practice in addition to his weekly scout team work.

"You've got to be able to show you know what you're doing and do it the right way. And play fast. And make plays when the opportunity arises," said So'oto.

If So'oto can break through on special teams, he might get his chance on defense. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the preseason with 2.5 sacks, an interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble to earn a roster spot. Many of his "splash" plays came against the opposition's first unit, too. The performance was a welcome surprise for a team that has been shuffling outside linebackers opposite Clay Matthews since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009.

This year, Erik Walden, a 2010 street free agent, has started all seven games opposite Matthews. He has shared series in recent games, however, with veteran Brad Jones and second-year player Frank Zombo (coming off an injury).

While Walden has been far from lacking as a starter, his production – at least in terms of sacks and tackles — has not been great. He has just one sack and is on pace for 80 tackles. Jones and Zombo have combined for seven tackles without a sack in part-time duty.

Last season, four players who earned starts at that spot recorded six sacks and 118 tackles, numbers that rated among the best in the league for sidekick outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme.

This year, the Packers have just four sacks from their outside linebackers as a whole. Among the teams in the league that run the 3-4 scheme, that total is the worst in the league. So, while there does not seem to be too much concern, there is a significant drop off.

Overall, the Packers rank in the middle of the league with 17 sacks.

Could So'oto help improve that ranking over the second half of the season?

Maybe, if he gets a chance.

"(Special teams) is definitely the key," said So'oto. "I've got to be able to contribute there first and gain confidence from the coaches and then hopefully they'll put me in there."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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