GREEN BAY, Wis. — Nick Perry’s NFL career has not gotten off to the start that he wanted. Two years after the Green Bay Packers made him their first-round pick, Perry has been defined more by the injuries that have set him back than anything positive that’s happened on the field.
Missing the entire offseason program (including minicamp) and the first four training camp practices due to the same foot and knee injuries that sidelined him for parts of 2013 was hardly an encouraging first step for Perry to turn things around. But after playing Thursday for the first time since the Packers’ postseason loss on Jan. 5, Perry was feeling confident that he could still live up to his status as the 28th overall selection from the 2012 draft.
"I still think I have a bright future," Perry said.
Perry has done some good things when healthy, including four sacks and three forced fumbles last season. However, his inability to practice this offseason certainly didn’t endear him to Green Bay’s coaching staff.
"Nick Perry, in my book, has done absolutely zero," linebackers coach Winston Moss said on June 17.
Perry was aware of that comment. It seemed to send a message to him that there’s a lot of work that he needs to accomplish to become the player that the Packers hoped he’d already have been by now.
"I haven’t been consistent, and I think that’s the niche right now I’m dealing with," Perry said. "Consistency right now is the biggest challenge for me; physical things that prohibit me from playing. I’m always keeping my head up, and I can’t focus on everything else. I have to do my job and make sure that every year I continue to grow and get better as a player."
Green Bay figured there would be somewhat of a difficult transition to the NFL for Perry, who spent his college career at USC playing defensive end. Perry even remarked before the 2012 draft that his preference was to stay at that position and go to a team that played a 4-3 defense. As he enters his third year in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme, though, Perry believes he’s fully adjusted to what’s being asked of him.
"I’ve made huge leaps coming from playing defensive end and now moving into the outside linebacker position," Perry said. "I know the defense, I have a good foundation, so now I don’t really have to worry about plays anymore. I can really study my opponent and anticipate things."
There’s always higher expectations on first-round picks. It comes with the territory. If Perry hadn’t been one, he wouldn’t have had a huge gathering of reporters surrounding his locker.
But unlike Perry’s first two NFL seasons, he’s no longer being counted on to be the Packers starter. With the offseason addition of Julius Peppers, along with the 2013 position change and offseason re-signing of Mike Neal, Perry is maybe No. 4 on Green Bay’s outside linebacker depth chart. To even have that spot would assume that he’s ahead of fourth-round pick Carl Bradford and ahead of second-year players Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba, which Perry might not be.
While the Packers have altered their defense to make use of an elephant position (which is basically a combination of outside linebacker and defensive end), Perry wants to show that he can contribute somehow, somewhere.
"I can do a whole lot," Perry said. "There’s flashes from the previous years, but I can bring a lot to the table, as well."
After all the time he missed, Perry clearly has to catch up with the rest of his teammates. Though he insisted that he did not have any surgery this offseason, watching from the sideline has not helped to get him ready. In Thursday’s practice, Perry lost all three of his one-on-one matchups during the team’s pass-rushing/pass-blocking drill.
Right now, Green Bay just has to be happy to settle for having Perry on the field while hoping that the rest will come around.
"No restrictions; it was good to get Nick back out there," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "Availability is a primary focus for job responsibility, definitely. Nick, sometimes players go through injury situations, one then two. Sometimes it just takes a little while to get off that cycle. Hopefully he’s off that."
If Perry is off the injury cycle, his power is unquestioned. When healthy, his bull-rush move is very effective. And still at age 24, there’s time for his career to turn into a promising one.
Perry knows that he’ll have to start delivering at a high level soon. Not that he’s in danger of being released (a situation in which being a first-round pick is beneficial), but in order to make an impact this season, he’ll have to stay healthy now and make some noteworthy plays.
"There’s no time to relax," Perry said. "Being competitors in this game, there’s never a time when you want to be in a backseat."