Nick Perry, the Green Bay Packers' first-round draft choice, had been having a quiet camp until Friday's Family Night scrimmage, when he flashed some of his potential on a consistent basis for the first time.
"There's still a lot to show," the thoughtful Perry told Packer Report with a smile during a lengthy interview with a few reporters after the scrimmage. "That was just a little preview but there's still more to come. We still have four preseason games before the real season starts. It's going to come to a point to where I'm going to be ready to roll full-throttle once the season starts."
Impact plays had been relatively few and far between for a player the Packers selected to make a bunch of impact plays and resurrect a defense that statistically was the worst in the NFL last season.
Not only had Perry made few eye-opening plays in 11-on-11 sessions, but he hadn't gotten much done during one-on-one pass rushing drills. According to standings put together by Packer Report and the Press-Gazette's Rob Demovsky, Perry was 3-6 through Thursday practice. Of course, it doesn't help that Perry has gotten a steady diet of standout right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga is 10-0 in the drill. At the end of one of those victories, Bulaga's mighty shove deposited Perry on his butt.
On Friday, however, Perry looked like the impact player the Packers were expecting. He had several good pressures, including two against fellow rookie Andrew Datko that might have resulted in sacks in a game. Now, the question is, was Perry's big night a coming-out party of sorts for a player making the difficult transition to NFL linebacker from collegiate defensive end or the byproduct of lesser competition?
" I'm pleased with the path he's on," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said a couple days before the scrimmage. "It's not now so much molding as it is shaving off a small edge, sanding a little bit. ... I can't give you an end point or where he is on the scale. I can tell you this: He is absolutely tracking, for taking a man who spent most of his life in a three-point stance and keying on one thing."
When Perry was selected by Green Bay, he instantly was aware of the expectations — even though they weren't directly verbalized. Even with Clay Matthews, the Packers finished last in the league in sacks per passing attempt last season. As the pass rush disappeared, the Packers went from posting the league's best opponent passer rating in 2010 to allowing the most passing yards in NFL history in 2011.
"It's kind of noted that I'm here for a reason," Perry said. "I'm running with the 1's, but at the same time, I know that I have to come out and perform. Everyone has to come out and perform. I have to be ready for whatever comes up. There's going to come a point in time that I need to be the guy out there to help the team. That's going to happen."
Does Perry embrace those expectations?
"I'm OK with anything," he said with a laugh.
Greene told Packer Report last month that Perry was the highest-rated outside linebacker prospect that he scouted. Greene and defensive coordinator Dom Capers covet physicality at the position, under the theory that one powerful rush after another eventually will let the linebacker use his other moves while wearing down the offensive tackle. Thus, Perry might be more effective on snap No. 30 than snap No. 1; snap No. 50 than snap No. 30; and so on.
"I like to be physical up front," Perry said. "That's what controls the game, in my opinion. I feel like I can do a lot of things once I know I have control over the players. We're going to get into mismatches that will help us make some stops and put pressure on the quarterback and those types of things to help us win. But I like to come out and be physical."
Perry landed in as good a situation as can be expected. Perry and Matthews were teammates at USC and have hit it off in Green Bay, and Greene is the NFL's all-time leader in sacks among linebackers.
"There's a lot of things but one thing that I take from Coach Greene is staying humble and staying hungry," Perry said. "I can only control myself. It's about what I want in life and I can achieve anything, so go out there and make things happen."
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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.