Pupil Palmer Learns Lessons from Prof. Greene

Nate Palmer, a rookie sixth-round pick, will be thrust into an unexpected role against Cleveland on Sunday. Palmer has played only seven snaps on defense in his brief career. The Packers' track record under Kevin Greene, however, has been impressive.

Nate Palmer got his first taste of Kevin Greene before the draft.

Palmer, one of the nation's top pass rushers at Illinois State as a senior, had a pre-draft visit with the Packers before they nabbed him with a sixth-round pick.

"He's very, very intense," Palmer recalled on Friday. "When he coaches, he gets into it. Even though I was just on my visit, we were talking about scheme and pass rush and stuff like that, he showed how much love he truly has for it. Just the way he talks, his body language, his gestures, I was like, ‘Yeah, this guy is pretty intense.'"

Palmer got an extra helping of Greene this week. With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry out and Mike Neal rehabbing his shoulder rather than practicing, it was just Greene, Palmer and fellow rookie Andy Mulumba on the practice field this week as the Packers prepped for Sunday's game against Cleveland.

"The coach-to-player ratio obviously favors both of those guys and I'm able to just pour everything I have into those young men and they've taken it and they have improved," Greene said. "Their vision has improved, their technique and fundamentals are always going to be a source of improvement. They're both fine kids and they're both going to play their heart out. Are they going to be perfect? No, but who the hell really is perfect? That's the bottom line. We're all going to make a mistake. The most important thing is you learn from your mistake, don't repeat it and move on from it. That's where they're at. They're good kids and they're going to lay it all on the line for their brothers."

On the surface, the Packers would appear to be in big trouble on Sunday, with or without Neal. Mulumba, an undrafted rookie who had modest production at Eastern Michigan, has played about a game's worth of snaps. Palmer's experience consists of the seven snaps he played against Baltimore last week.

Still, while the contributions haven't always been spectacular, the Packers have gotten production from just about everybody who's played outside linebacker during Greene's four-plus seasons on the staff. In the full seven games in which the Packers played without Aaron Kampman in 2009, rookie seventh-round pick Brad Jones recorded four sacks. In 2010, they won a Super Bowl with midseason addition Erik Walden and undrafted rookie Frank Zombo combining for nine sacks. Last season, undrafted rookie Dezman Moses contributed four sacks.

"He's a teacher," Palmer said. "He coaches everyone as if they're a starter. That's something that I really noticed from Day 1. Even that first week of the season, when I knew I didn't have a chance to play, he still allowed me to take reps during the week of practice and coached me as if I was going to go out there and play. That's one thing that he does that really helps young guys be ready for situations like this."

The message has been instilled in the Packers' young players practically from Day 1. You might be third on the depth chart today but you're only an injury away from being part of the rotation. Or a couple of injuries away from being in a featured role.

"Not just the coaching staff. It comes from everybody," Palmer said. "I was talking to Jerel Worthy a few weeks ago and I wasn't active and he was like, ‘Palmer, stay ready, you never know what's going to happen. It happened to me last year. Somebody got hurt the first play of the game and I played every snap the rest of the game. You never know when your time's going to come so just be ready.' I listened to him because I try to listen to everybody, whether they've been here for a week or 10 years."

Palmer barely got on the field during two seasons at Illinois. He transferred to Illinois State, not with the NFL on his mind but just to have fun playing the game he loves.

"Oh, no. Anyone that knows me, they can tell you in a heartbeat that I never banked on getting to the NFL," Palmer said. "I always just said, ‘I'm just playing to have fun,' and that's what I always did. I never, ever said, ‘I have to make it to the NFL' because not everybody makes in the NFL. You always need that fallback plan but I was blessed with this opportunity."

Sunday's game will be fun for Palmer, who might be making his first NFL start. The Chicago native will have some friends and family in attendance to watch what could be a special day.

"Oh, man, it's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "Every game day is fun, regardless of if you're playing or on the sideline because watching A-Rod, that's fun. Watching Clay and Nick and watching the defense, period, producing, that's fun. Especially being a rookie and watching them on TV last year and you're seeing them in person this year, you're like, wow, man, OK. Last week watching A.J. (Hawk), I was like watching, OK!"

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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