For the next two months, the Packers were practically out of sight, out of mind. That all changed on the night of April 26, when Perry's cell phone rang. The Packers had just made Perry their first-round pick.
"It was a surprise," Perry told Packer Report on Tuesday for a lengthy feature for Packer Report Magazine that focuses mostly on Perry growing up in Detroit with seven brothers and one sister. "It didn't quite hit me until after they picked me. I didn't really talk to them throughout the process, really. I didn't visit with them, though they did send me a questionnaire a couple days before the draft. That was the only thing that I heard from them until that day came. When they picked me, I was shocked. It was like, ‘What happened here?' But I'm going to Green Bay. I'm blessed."
Perry entered the draft following his junior season. Eight games into the season, Perry had just four sacks. In an ESPN.com story about Perry's looming USC-or-NFL decision, his position coach, Ed Orgeron, point-blank said Perry wasn't playing to expectations or the standards of the All-Americans who preceded him at USC.
Perry, however, closed the season with a bang. Over the Trojans' final four games, he got one sack against Colorado, 2.5 against Washington and two more in a 38-35 win at Oregon that knocked the Ducks out of the national championship picture. Perry earned All-American honors, was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive lineman and decided to enter the draft.
"I wasn't getting what I wanted out of the season," Perry said. "I felt like I had more in me and my talent is there and I needed to make a better effort to try to make plays and get better. I feel like I learned more toward the end of the season. All of those things combined helped me flourish toward the end of the season."
Perry's late-season performance, and then a jaw-dropping performance at the Scouting Combine that saw the 271-pound Perry run a 4.58 in the 40 with 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press, had Orgeron singing a different tune.
"I think any time one of our juniors can be a first-round pick, he's got to really look at it," Orgeron told Packer Report. "Although I'm happy he was picked by the Packers, I think next year if he would have stayed he could have been a top-15 pick. But those are the things that they have to decide."
By saying that, Orgeron wasn't being critical of Perry's decision. He sees Perry as a rapidly ascending player who will "become an outstanding player" in the NFL. The way Orgeron sees it, there's no way the Packers would be in position to draft Perry in 2013.
"Kenechi Udeze played left end for us and had 16 1/2 sacks and Nick had (9.5), but if you go back and look at Nick's film, he probably missed six or seven sacks," Orgeron said. "So, those are the things he's going to work on with (Kevin Greene) and Dom Capers. There's just a couple of little finishing touches that he needs with his technique to get 15 sacks."
Perry agreed with his former coach's assessment.
"I think there's a lot left in me that I can put out," Perry said. "The talent is there. I know I'll get the best coaching that's possible to help me progress to being a better football player in the long run."
If that happens, the Packers' defense could rise quickly back into elite status. In 2010, with Cullen Jenkins supplying seven sacks, Clay Matthews piled up 13.5. In 2011, with Jenkins in Philadelphia and nobody playing a mean second fiddle, Matthews fell to six sacks and nobody else had more than three.
"I know that I can" become a great player, he said. "That's the confidence that I have in my ability. When the times comes for me to step out on the field, I'll give it my all and I'll learn whatever there is to learn. I'll learn the ropes. Once I get used to it and I can slow the game down, I think I'll become an even better player. It could take a month, it could take a couple months or a year, but whatever it takes, I'm ready to do the job."
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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.