The Green Bay Packers aren’t just deep at outside linebacker. They’re diverse.
“We’ve got it all,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said on Tuesday morning. “We have guys that can rush with power, we’ve got guys that can rush with athleticism, we’ve got guys that can rush with speed. We have experienced guys, we have explosive guys, we have young guys, we have developing guys. There’s a lot of different ways that we can send rushers at the quarterback.”
Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers are the headliners. In seven seasons, Matthews has been selected to six Pro Bowls and has 67.5 sacks. In five seasons as a full-time outside linebacker, he has 50 sacks. Peppers ranks ninth in NFL history and first among active players with 136 sacks, including 10.5 last season.
It’s the depth that has Moss excited.
Nick Perry leads the NFL in postseason sacks over the last four seasons and is one of the league’s premier run-stopping outside linebackers. For the first time, he was able to go through the team’s offseason program, a key as he replaces Peppers in the starting lineup.
“This is that first time he can really be engaged,” Moss said. “You’re on the sideline and you’re rehabbing and you’re doing your own thing, you’re not really a part of taking reps. Now that you’re in it and he can talk things out and he can talk his passion and what he loves to do, I think it’s going to be huge. If he stays healthy, we’re looking for big things from Nick this year.”
Jayrone Elliott, a special teams standout, led the NFL in preseason sacks in 2014 and the team in sacks per snap in 2015. He’s been incredibly disruptive during 11-on-11 periods.
“Jayrone’s a great kid, very, very coachable,” Moss said. “He’s always looking to try to improve his game. You talk about developing that experience and that toughness and that strength to play the run, so he works on that. He’s always seeing to find that signature move, that identity move, in his pass rush.
Datone Jones, who didn’t pan out on the defensive line as a first-round pick in 2013, adds run-stopping power in his first season as a full-time outside linebacker. Considering he was learning on the fly, his play down the stretch last season was impressive. He and Peppers will line up as the interior rushers frequently on passing downs.
“Datone was a little awkward in the OTAs but I’ve been impressed with him in training camp,” Moss said. “He’s dropped some weight. His focus is on point. He’s had a really solid start. He’s really starting to feel comfortable, really starting to play with some more instincts. I like what he’s doing. As long as he keeps that focus day in and day out, he’s got a real great chance. We’re looking for big things from him.”
Lerentee McCray, signed after the Broncos didn’t give him a restricted free-agent tender, had 1.5 sacks while stuck behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware the last two seasons. After missing the offseason program with an undisclosed injury, McCray was one of the best players on the practice field on Monday night.
“Plays with a lot of intensity,” Moss said. “You can just see a passion in his play. Quick twitch. He’s really picked up things well for not having a lot of reps. You’re excited to see what he’s done so far and can’t wait for the preseason games to get going to see how he does.”
Kyler Fackrell, a third-round draft pick, had five sacks, 15 tackles for losses and a FBS-leading five fumble recoveries as a senior. Because of the depth, his contributions as a rookie might have to be on special teams.
“You watch him, he’s all business,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He has the length that you look for. He runs well. I think he’ll comprehend things, and I think he’s got some natural pass rush to him. He’ll be a fun guy to watch as we get into these preseason games to see how he stacks up against other competition.”
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.