With the 28th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Ted Thompson was tempted by a handful of potential difference makers on defense.
Rather than selecting Courtney Upshaw, who had been projected by some as a mid-1st round pick, or Harrison Smith, who would have added some stability to the safety position after Nick Collins was released, Thompson picked USC’s Nick Perry in hopes of bolstering the Packers’ front seven.
Perry was immediately penciled in as Green Bay’s starting outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews–a spot that has been a revolving door the past three seasons. Erik Walden, Brad Jones and Frank Zombo have each shown occasional glimpses of reliability, but the starting job remained vacant entering this offseason.
In comes Perry.
The rookie defensive end-turned-linebacker has been running with the first-team defense ever since mini-camp in June. But in the early stages of training camp, Perry hasn’t exactly drawn rave reviews.
He’s failed to generate much of a consistent pass rush, and he hasn’t made any “wow” plays in live team action. However, it’s clear after first week of training camp that the Packers are making Perry a highly-prioritized project heading into 2012.
Morning or evening, indoors or outdoors, if Perry isn’t directly involved in the drill the Packers are running, he’s doing one of two things: getting tips from Matthews or chatting with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.
Perry gave Greene reason for excitement on one occasion at Thursday night’s practice. In one-on-one drills between the offensive tackles and outside linebackers, Perry got physical and stood up Bryan Bulaga, causing Greene to shower him with praise.
Although he was quiet later in practice during team period and hasn’t generated many would-be sacks thus far, the 271-pound linebacker figures to be an immediate upgrade over last year’s starter Erik Walden setting the edge in the run game. Walden graded out dead-last among 28 3-4 outside linebackers against the run last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
Whether it’s in the form of a high sack total or simply an improved defense overall, the Packers certainly hope their project pans out in year one.