If Perry holds up his end of the bargain, he just might have his first Super Bowl as a rookie.
The Green Bay Packers, with the league's worst pass defense in 2011 and the worst pass defense in the 91-year history of the NFL, desperately needed a playmaking, quarterback-sacking defender. Perry, the 28th selection of Thursday's first round, has the potential to be that kind of player.
During three seasons at USC, the 6-foot-3, 271-pound Perry recorded 21.5 sacks and 51 quarterback pressures. He tallied 29.5 tackles for losses, forced five fumbles and batted down six passes. At the Scouting Combine, he ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash with 38.5-inch vertical leap and 35 reps on the bench press, giving him arguably the best combination of size, speed and strength of any defender in the draft.
After being hamstrung by the motley crew of Erik Walden, Frank Zombo, Brad Jones and Vic So'oto last season, defensive coordinator Dom Capers hopes he's found the player who can right all of the defense's wrongs simply with his ability to attack the quarterback.
"It means a great deal," Capers said on Thursday night. "I think the basis of our defense starts with being able to threaten offenses from both sides. You see us do a lot of things with our inside linebackers. A lot of their success is based on the type of threat that you have from both sides of your defense. If you can threaten them with both outside linebackers … a big part of what we do is attempting to see if we can't get a linebacker matched up on a back. We ought to win that battle when we do that. It's a key component."
Perry has a history of sacking the quarterback. As a senior at Detroit's King High School, Perry set a state record with 36 sacks as a senior. After redshirting at USC in 2008 as Clay Matthews blossomed into a star, Perry became the first freshman in school history to lead the team in sacks (nine). In 2011, Perry was named a first-team All-American by The NFL Draft Report and was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is presented to college football's top defensive lineman. He finished with 9.5 sacks, 13.0 tackles for losses and a conference-leading 23 quarterback pressures.
"I think I have the (skill-set) and the mind to do it," Perry said of rushing the passer. "I think I have a lot to bring to the table, just a lot of potential that needs to be taken out of me. I'm going to Green Bay, to a great tradition that's going to help me improve my game and make me become a better player for years to come."
General manager Ted Thompson said Perry had "juice." Capers called him "explosive."
Those aren't words anyone used about the cast of misfits who lined up opposite Matthews. With quarterbacks having the opportunity to not only read the Packers' defense but read a book and maybe enjoy a nap, the defensive backs couldn't do what they do best: play press-man coverage. With no pass rush and the corners forced to play off-coverage or zone, the pass defense was sliced and diced and filleted.
"If you compare our defense last year, all you have to go back is two years to our Super Bowl year," Capers said. "I thought we rushed the quarterback as good as anybody in the league. We were second in sacks (and) we were able to get more pressure, and the pressure helps the coverage and the coverage helps the pressure. So last year, we weren't pleased really with either area. What we're looking to do is go back to work and find a way to get back to pressuring the quarterback like we did a couple years ago and cover a lot better."
So, with Shea McClellin having gone to Chicago at No. 19 and Whitney Mercilus to Houston at No. 26, the Packers went with Perry over fellow outside linebacker candidates Courtney Upshaw, Allen Branch, Vinny Curry and Lavonte David.
"Tremendous physical specimen – 270 pounds and runs 4.5 or something like that," Thompson said. "At the end of the day, we thought he'd make a really good addition to our outside linebacker group. He's played with his hand on the ground and we're convinced that he's athletic enough to play standing up and do some of the things that we do. Very physical guy, can set the edge, can rush the passer. We feel good."
So, too, did Perry. It took longer than he had hoped to escape the Green Room at Radio City Music Hall, but a couple hours of anxiousness were swept aside when his NFL dreams finally became his reality.
He landed in a great situation. He and Matthews are "boys." He has a chance to play right away. And while he doesn't have to be a dominant player as a rookie, if Perry can make a bad defense at least respectable, the Aaron Rodgers-led offense should have the firepower to once again make the Packers a dominant team.
"Oh, it was awesome. It was awesome," Perry said of being handed a Packers jersey by Commissioner Roger Goodell. "Being in the green and yellow is awesome to me. I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be a Packer and I know it carries a lot of weight and I'm ready to take on the challenge."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.