Nick Perry has played four seasons. He’s spent more than a season’s worth of games, 18 in all, as a gameday inactive due to knee, wrist, foot, ankle, shoulder and hand injuries. Even when he’s played, he’s often been held together by duct tape, ace bandages and twine.
But now, for the first time since being the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick in 2012, Perry is healthy. He’s also smiling and conveniently forgetful.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Perry said after Thursday’s practice when asked about his injury history. “The injuries are gone. We flipped the page on that. There’s no worries.”
For the first time, Perry went through the Packers’ offseason program. In 2012, he was getting ready for the NFL Draft. In 2013, it was because of the wrist surgery that ruined his rookie season. In 2014, it was an injured foot. Last year, it was offseason shoulder surgery.
A healthy Perry should translate into a better Perry.
“I feel bigger, I feel stronger, I feel faster,” Perry said. “Just all of those things because I had the time to full focus on improving my craft and getting better as opposed to nursing an injury. When you’re not really 100 percent, you can’t give it all, so we’re good now.”
Said coach Mike McCarthy before Thursday’s practice: “He looks like a whole different player. I look for Nick to be a prominent player in our defense this year.”
Perry is a big, powerful man, which is why he has replaced Julius Peppers in the starting lineup at outside linebacker. He’s also a changed man. At the 2012 Scouting Combine, when Perry had his heart set on playing as a 4-3 defensive end, he tipped the scales at 271 pounds.
“Huuuuge,” Perry said.
While he’s listed at 265, he’s closer to 260, he said, as he tries to find the right combination of strength and agility.
“I think the game has changed in a way that you have to be fast, especially the position we play,” Perry said. “We have to be able to play tight ends, sometimes receivers and running backs in coverage. We also have to have some way to be able to pull down runners when you take on a big, 320-(pound) tackle. There’s a balance. I think everybody finds that balance and works on their strengths and weaknesses to make sure they’re all-around balanced to play.”
Perry has played well in spurts throughout his career, only to be sidetracked with one injury after another. As a rookie, he had sacks in two out of three games before getting injured at Houston and not playing for the rest of the season. In 2013, he had three sacks in two games before missing five of the next six games with an injured foot. Last season, he had 3.5 sacks and five tackles for losses in an early three-game stretch before missing the San Diego game. He was unable to regain his mojo until the playoffs, when he had 3.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble vs. Washington and Arizona. The game against the Redskins was particularly impressive, as he trounced Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.
While the season ended on a bitter note, his strong — and healthy — ending led to an eagerness to turn the page to 2016.
“Just being able to showcase my abilities and feeling really good about it, knowing that I’ve still got a lot more time here and in the league,” Perry said. “Everything looks great and all I can think about is getting to next season and when do we play next? That’s where everything happens. I was excited to have a good offseason to get things rolling.”
While Perry statistically is the best run-stopping outside linebacker in the NFL, he also leads the NFL in postseason sacks with six over the past four years.
That’s not enough for Perry. He’s been an impact player at times. Now, for the first time, he’s poised to put it all together for a full season.
“Need to give more,” he said. “That’s really what it comes down to – giving more and everything else is there for the taking.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.