When the Packers open training camp, we will hear plenty about Nick Perry making the shift from a hand-on-the-ground college defensive end to a stand-up NFL outside linebacker.
No doubt, there will be plenty of adjustments that Perry needs to make as he transitions. But don’t let that fool you, Perry is the player the Packers want to rush the quarterback opposite of Clay Matthews.
There is no need to be overly concerned about Perry not yet being a well-rounded OLB. The Packers should focus most of their efforts on making Perry the best possible pass rusher that he can be. What deficiencies he may have in pass coverage or other areas can be developed over time.
If Perry turns out to be the pass rusher the Packers think he can be, the other aspects of playing OLB will come to him. Meantime, Dom Capers can create sub packages and scheme as necessary to maximize Perry’s talents and mask the undeveloped portions of his game.
After Perry and Matthews, things get interesting at OLB.
The Packers brought Walden back even though he disappeared down the stretch last season after getting arrested. Most people have written Walden off, but I say not so fast.
There’s a reason the Packers brought him back. If they didn’t think he was any good, they wouldn’t have resigned him. I’m not saying Walden is going to be a breakout player, but don’t immediately dismiss him.
He’s had his moments with the Packers, including three sacks in the 2010 season finale and a two-game stretch before getting arrested last season where he totaled 15 tackles and a sack.
Bringing Walden back was a good decision. If he plays like he did before the arrest, the Packers have a solid depth player. If he looks finished, the Packers can just cut him and move on with their lives.
This year’s buzz player, Moses made everybody take notice of him during OTAs. His 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill times at the combine were better than Perry’s, and he was a very productive college player.
Ted Thompson seems to always find an undrafted free agent or two that sticks around. A few even make a major impact (see Sam Shields in 2010).
Last year’s buzz player, So’oto might have to fend off this year’s buzz player for a roster spot.
Based on what little I saw of So’oto last season, he seems like a poor man’s version of Perry. I don’t see him having much of a prayer in pass coverage, but when it comes to rushing the passer and holding the edge, there’s some potential. It’s extremely raw potential, but potential nonetheless.
So’oto’s chance could come down to his health. A back injury kept So’oto on the sideline for a lot of 2011. Back injuries scare me. They tend to linger. Much like Moses, we’ll have to wait and see what So’oto looks like once the pads go on.
Talent-wise, Zombo and Walden are about equal. The difference comes down to health. Walden has stayed on the field, Zombo hasn’t.
Zombo was the buzz player in camp in 2010 and registered four sacks in 13 games. He only played in five games in 2011, totaling a single sack and seven tackles.
If Zombo is going to make the team, he’s going to have to recreate some of that buzz he had going in 2010. That’s tough to do when you’re no longer the unknown and undrafted upstart that catches everyone by surprise.
Predictions and Final Thoughts
I’m going with Walden and Moses making the team and Zombo and So’oto getting cut. (There I go making roster predictions in July again. You’d think I would eventually learn….)
Walden has played at a solid backup level before. You don’t want him starting, but he’s fine as a reserve. Think of him as the Charlie Peprah of the OLBs. In a limited role, surrounded by talented players, he’ll do fine. If you make him a starter and give him a ton of responsibility, problems arise.
Moses has momentum, youth and the unknown on his side. With Moses, the Packers are going to be looking for raw talent that they can develop. They won’t expect him to be perfect all the time.
Obviously, health is a major factor with Zombo. But even if he’s 100 percent, the Packers still might want to give Moses a shot if they think Zombo has already reached his ceiling.
Health is also a factor with So’oto, but so are numbers. He might just be the odd-man out. Momentum and surprise won’t help So’oto this season. He’s going to have to show he’s improved and can contribute.
Special teams will also give us clues about who might be the odd man/men out. The Packers will need contributors on special teams from the backup OLB spots.
Nobody is going to challenge Perry for the starting role. I believe it’s his job from day one. If Perry struggles and doesn’t seize the opportunity, opposing QBs might once again be very comfortable playing the Packers.