Kyler Fackrell was running on fumes.
After tearing his ACL in the 2014 opener, there was a long year of rehab to get ready for his final season at Utah State.
As a senior, Fackrell played in 13 games.
Then came the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine and the draft, which rolled straight into the rookie camp, offseason practices and right into his rookie season. That long grind was too much for Fackrell to overcome.
“Coming in off the season, I felt really weak. And I was,” the second-year outside linebacker said after Thursday’s organized team activity at Clarke Hinkle Field.
Fackrell was far too weak to withstand the rigors of a physical position. At the 2016 Scouting Combine, Fackrell put up only 15 reps on the bench press. Of the 39 linebackers at the Combine, only one put up fewer reps.
Blessed with an offseason, Fackrell went to work on his body. He said he’s added 10 pounds to what was a lanky 245-pound frame.
“My body was tired more so than anything,” he said. “You kind of have a little fat around your stomach at the end of the season, you feel like your arms are all scrawny. To get back in the weight room and hit it hard, it does a lot for your confidence and being able to feel good.”
That power should come in handy as Fackrell goes from role player to key player. Fackrell made a modest contribution as a rookie, in part because he wasn’t needed to be a major contributor at a position with veterans Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. In 13 games, Fackrell played only 160 snaps — 12.3 per game. Perhaps because of his worn-down body, Fackrell’s productivity declined as the season progressed. Both of his sacks and five of his nine tackles came in the first four games. He disappeared down the stretch. In his final four regular-season games and the three playoff games, Fackrell played a total of 32 snaps on defense.
More is required this season. Peppers and Jones left in free agency and fourth-round pick Vince Biegel was the lone addition of note. Suddenly, Fackrell is the No. 1 backup at a position in which the starters, Matthews and Perry, have injury histories.
“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, but I’m definitely excited,” Fackrell said. “I know it’s a big opportunity for myself, for Jayrone (Elliott), for Reggie (Gilbert). The outside linebackers are seen as kind of the leader group of the defense, so there’s Clay and there’s Nick and those guys are going to produce, they’re going to be great leaders. But there’s definitely roles to be filled, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy expects his second-year players to make big steps forward, in large part because they get an offseason to focus on their bodies. Fackrell’s gains have McCarthy feeling good about a position that lost more than 1,100 snaps.
“Feel good about the depth at outside linebacker,” McCarthy said. “The outside linebacker position, this is probably as good as depth as we’ve had there in some time. I think you’ll really see some of our guys jump out in training camp as we get the pads on.”
Fackrell took note of McCarthy’s words.
“I’m really excited. I’m really excited coming into this year,” he said. “There’s a lot expected from Year 1 to Year 2, there’s supposed to be a big jump. Coach McCarthy said we’re as deep as we’ve ever been, so that’s a huge vote of confidence for us as an outside linebacker group. It’s just a great opportunity to step up and fill those roles.”
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.