GREEN BAY, Wis. — It wasn’t the rookie season that Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry hoped for. Injuring his wrist in his NFL regular-season debut and being placed on injured reserve two months later never let the first-round pick display what made him such a valuable prospect.
While Perry certainly isn’t happy about the first impression he left in 2012, that experience is part of what’s driving the 23-year-old as he prepares for a second chance to get his career going in the right direction.
“I have a lot to prove,” Perry said during the Packers’ first week of offseason training activities. “I have to be out there on the field to help my teammates. I wasn’t able to be out there on the field to do that. Most importantly, I have a chip on my shoulder. I want to be out there and help any way I can and be a force out there on the field.”
Though there’s still plenty of time for it to happen, the Packers drafted Perry with the expectation that he would complement Clay Matthews well. Matthews has been named to the Pro Bowl in all four of his NFL seasons so far, picking up 42.5 sacks in that time. But finding another high-level pass rusher has been a problem for Green Bay’s defense, especially since defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins — and his seven sacks in 2010 — departed following the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory.
Perry played college football at the University of Southern California, just like Matthews did. When Perry arrived for training camp in Green Bay last year, he followed his fellow Trojan everywhere on the practice field. It was a daily lesson for Perry coming from one of the NFL’s best defensive players, with Matthews showing the willingness to take the rookie under his wing.
Matthews might continue in that mentor role this year, but Perry is confident that he’ll soon show off some of the things he picked up.
“I’m one year better,” Perry said. “Just knowing the position even more. Now I’m learning the little things, some of the little things that help the bigger picture. I went in last year just seeing a whole lot. Things are coming along pretty good now.”
Perry played in six games last season, recording two sacks and 18 tackles. As pain in his left wrist got worse with every hit, Perry received a second medical opinion in early November. It was then discovered that the injury required surgery, ending Perry’s relatively uneventful rookie season.
“Those things kind of push you back a little bit, restrict you,” Perry said. “But most importantly, you have to keep going. I did what I could. I tried to press on. This is a different year. I’m putting that behind me. It’s time to move forward. I’m looking for the best.”
Perry insists he’ll be healthy when the regular season begins, but he was still wearing a brace on his left wrist throughout all of the team’s drills in the one practice that was open to the media.
“Right now I’m using it for preventative measures,” Perry said of the brace. “It’s still early. We’re not really hitting, we’re not doing much. Keeping that on there and making sure everything is intact and nothing happens during these OTAs and minicamp.
“I don’t want to get caught somewhere when it goes the wrong way. Just protecting that at all costs right now seems to make sense.”
Being fully recovered from that injury is just one part of what Perry needs in order to improve and be the impact player that the Packers need. Perry displayed only one significant pass-rushing move last season, attempting to use his strength to bull rush his way into the backfield.
Green Bay knew when drafting Perry that he was a bit heavy to play outside linebacker by average NFL standards. Perry even indicated to reporters during the Scouting Combine last year that playing as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense might be best for him. Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn’t worry about that though, selecting the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Perry and immediately placing him at outside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 defense.
Perry didn’t put a number on it, but he said he is “a little lighter” now than he was a year ago. That could benefit him as he expands his game to use speed to get around the edge occasionally.
“Just being healthy and kind of taking the bull by the horns,” Perry said. “Things are going to get better. As we go on through the year, I’m going to continue to do what I have to do to be that guy on the field.”
How many sacks can the Packers expect to get out of Perry this season? Well, Perry wouldn’t give his prediction or state his goal for that. But now that he’s healthy, Perry believes his second NFL season will be much better than his first.
“I’ll be healthy going in,” Perry said. “I’ll be more ready.”