Packers Training Camp Battles: Will Anyone Stand Up to Perry at OLB?

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Nick Perry
Packers OLB Nick Perry

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.

Erik Walden
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.

Dezman Moses
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).

Is Moses that guy this season? Ask again once the pads go on. His numbers in college and the early reviews from coaches make Moses seem legit, for now at least.

Vic So’oto
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.

Frank Zombo
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.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • James david Marsh

    My best guess is that it will be mathews and Perry backed up by Moses and So’oto. I also think that a swing player that can play both inside and outside might be added to the roster.

    • http://none TomTD

      The swing player might be the rookie Manning. I could see the Pack making major trades with the Browns and Dolphins. Either Jones or Driver at WR,
      a couple MLB’s, a couple of OLB’s in three or four player packages for a high draft pick or one excellent player in return.
      I won’t try to predict players on the roster, but, I think the Pack goes with 3 RB’s and another on PS-one fullback with TE Taylor maybe as back up fullback too-look for DJ Williams to do more in the offense, or be one of the guys in a trade package-Randall Cobb to play some RB-and Diandre Borel to be the emergency 3rd QB with a QB also on PS.

      • WakeUpCall

        TomTD,

        You are overvaluing Jones and Driver. If you think any team is willing to trade a high draft pick or “excellent” player for Jones/Driver and a backup mlb and/or olb you are delusional. Driver might have some interest from other teams as a free agent but they aren’t going to trade much for an old receiver that doesn’t have speed anymore (see Hines Ward in retirement with no interest). Look at what Jones did as a free agent and that should tell you how much other teams value him. You know Jones wants to get out of GB and be a starter somewhere yet he couldn’t get anywhere as a free agent. Our backup mlb’s and olb’s from last year were backups for a reason. They couldn’t even beat out Hawk in the middle or take control of the wide open olb spot opposite Clay. Both Walden and Zombo started games at times but I put them in the backup group because if at any point during the season you are healthy but not the starter then you are a backup in my mind. Three backups does not equal one excellent player or high round draft pick. We would be very lucky to even get a player of starter quality for Jones & Hawk but to expect a pro bowl caliper player is crazy.

        • http://none TomTD

          Wow, you think I am talking about a first or second round pick or pro bowl player-you read in too much-Jones and a couple other backup players should bring a third round pick from the Browns or Dolphins-our players fit right in at Miami for example-and one excellent player in return would be someone of eqaul or slightly better than Jones-some of our backups are starters on the weak teams-they will trade to get them into their program soon, rather than wait until last cut down and not get them or have them be on a huge learning curve. You are the one who is crazy-

          • Tarynfor12

            James Jones isn’t going anywhere..stop trying to trade him.
            His salary allows us to keep him and we need him…and an increase in snaps this season will simply make a trade easier next season ‘if’one of the promised hopefuls show they can step in..Gurley,Borel or whoever actually is with the team after camp.

            • Michael

              Jones creates separation, better than Driver. They drop about the same. I love Driver, but it is time, it is time!

  • Lou

    Walden’s biggest asset is his take no prisoners attitude. Based on his inability from game to game to hold the point (outside LB’s first priority), along with little QB pressure it is hard to believe he started most of the season, that means the reserves such as Jones are basically on the roster for special teams play. Bringing him back signals the same level of respect for the potential subs. Zombo if healthy is their best all around hope to back up Perry. Moses needs to continue to flash to be considered once the pads go on. The net is that the LB core last year had 2 Pro Bowl level players (Mathews & Bishop) along with a pedestrian starter (Hawk) and a player that probably could not start that many times for any other NFL team (Walden). Perry had to be the guy.

  • Ron LC

    Walden cannot hold his end. He never did and never will. He is easily trapped and taken out of running plays to his side. If he hasn’t learned this yet, he never will. He was responsible for many long ball control runs over his position last year. No faith in his ability to think on his feet.

    So’oto and Zombo played well when healthy. Unless they can come back and play at a high level, niether will make the team. That’s too bad because the talent is still there.

    The rookies? All coach speak so far. There could be a surprice there.

    In any case, Adam, there’ll sill be competition for the backup spots. Alot of competetion and that’s a good thing. Perry is going to be the clear #1 going in to camp. Let the games begin.

    • I bleed green more

      I agree were just starting, its going to be a fun preseason if we make it through it lol.

  • I bleed green more

    Training camp will break the log jam. I think Zombo might be done and maybe Walden it just depends on how the preseason goes and who knows what injuries occur.

  • FireMMNow

    if anyone besides moses is even competing with perry for starting snaps this defense is in big trouble again. because all that would mean is that perry is struggling, not that zombo or walden have suddenly emerged as good players.

  • Wagszilla

    I think the one most likely to give Perry competition is Zombo if he can stay healthy.

    He did a solid job of sealing the edge when healthy and wasn’t terrible at rushing the QB.

    Unfortunately he got injured and we didn’t see how he progressed in coverage or the pass rush.

    I think we’ll see Perry start but they’re start him slow and mix in other OLBs, unless he hits his stride early.

    • Adam Czech

      Zombo is probably a slightly enhanced version of Walden. When healthy, he’s a good backup, whereas Walden is just a backup.

      When healthy being the key words…..

  • Mojo

    Ok, I’ll go the shocker route and project both Walden and Moses get cut. Walden graded-out as one-of-the if not the worst OLB’s last year. And Moses slow 40 times does not bode well for an OLB type(didn’t Ricky Elmore look great on film, but had a slow 40 also?).

    Since typing these comments I’ve reconsidered on Moses. His 20 yard shuttle and 3-cone drill were too good to ignore. Plus he’s gotten a lot of pub from his teammates (but didn’t Bigby, and how did that work out). Alright I’ll switch him with Zombo. Just bad luck with the injuries the past couple years for Frank. Plus if they cut Zombo, I believe there’s a good chance he’ll be available later in the season if some other LB gets hurt.

    Agree with you Adam on So’oto’s back injury. Do ruptured disks repair themselves without surgery? I think there’s a good chance he re-aggravates it sometime during training camp. If that’s the case, the Packers might cut Walden, Zombo and So’oto since they need the roster spots for the scads of receivers they expect of carry.

  • CJ

    Don’t forget special teams, and injury, don’t put all the eggs or OLB’s in one or two guys this is a game of who is standing in Dec.

  • Oppy

    Brad Jones is a better option to back up at OLB in the 3-4 than Walden or Zombo, and honestly, i don’t think it’s even close.

    He can set the edge, rush the passer, AND drop into coverage.. Walden and Zombo have not proven they can do all three- they’ve proven they can’t.

    Add in that they are playing him inside during camp, and it looks like they are attempting to add value to Jones to make sure he sticks.

    • Adam Czech

      Yeah, I didn’t include Jones because of the talk of moving him inside….

      • Oppy

        I’m pretty sure they are cross training Jones to help make him a utility player back up and save roster spots- much like Bush in the secondary, or Evan Deitrich-Smith on the O-line.. I believe Jones plays on many of the special teams too.

        That said, LB has become crowded, and I don’t know what will happen. My guy has been telling me Walden and Zombo’s days were numbered since midway thru last season. I love So’oto’s physicality, but if he hasn’t made a great leap in technique, he’ll be hard pressed to make the team. I’m not on the Moses train until the pads come on.. We have a long history of guys looking like tarzan in OTAs and mini camp who don’t do squat when the pads go on in training camp. Perry, Manning, Smith, Hawk, Bishop and Matthews are, imo, the only true locks. PRobably Francois and Jones, but who knows.

        • Oppy

          lol, “my guy has been telling me” is supposed to read “My GUT has been telling me”… I don’t have any inside sources lurking about the halls of 1225.

        • JimR_in_DC

          Oppy says: “My guy has been telling me Walden and Zombo’s days were numbered since midway thru last season.”

          McGinn’s unnamed source? Where’s Ron LC? :D

  • Lefty

    Well, you can put Moses on the PS pretty easy. So maybe, you keep a little more experience and back fill upon injury.

    • Oppy

      Moses was considered a high-profile undrafted free agent, he was fairly coveted around the league.. Well, coveted as far as undrafted guys go.

  • Spiderpack

    For God’s sake, first & foremost, lets remember that Zombo was injured last preseason in a freak accident where his scapula was fractured by a team-bonding, friendly tap on the back from his teammate John Kuhn after he had a great practice. Dude makes the team if he’s healthy. His abilities are still largely untapped. Clearly he is a playmaker, anyone who did what he did in the limited time he had on the field is a player, particularly in his first season.

    • Spiderpack

      That is a friendly smack on the back by John Kuhn’s helmet.

    • Oppy

      I’m fairly confident that if Zombo’s last name was JOhnson instead of Zombo, nobody would have any trace of Zombo fever.

      He played admirably when healthy, but he did nothing out of the ordinary. Great story for an undrafted free agent.. But He’s just a guy.

  • Zeman

    Zombo and Walden interchangeable. Very ordinary players, flip a coin makes no difference, Walden holds up better that’s about it.
    Hawk is the guy I’m sick of. What a wimp. I cant imagine a bigger waste of money, he made 10.95 million last year, he’s never put out( well maybe under Thompson’s desk) has always under performed. No offensive coordinator gives crap about Hawk.

  • http://kopmed.com Jim Kopriva

    Your Mozes link is broken; I’d love to hear what Packers coaches have to say about him if you can get that link fixed.

  • tlvincent

    I could care less if Perry can succeed in pass coverage this year, they just need him to be physical jamming TE’s chipping RB’s, play 100mph, and get after the QB, he can work on his zone reads and man to man skills during the offseason :)