When the Packers drafted linebacker Nick Perry in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, the team had very high expectations. But often he seemed to vanish in to the background. Whether he was sidelined with an injury or saddled with a bad case of not living up to the hype, Perry has spent a lot of his first four years in Green Bay an afterthought. There were times last season where he looked out-muscled, out-paced, and a little out of shape.
What a difference a year makes.
I thought we were in for a load of garbage from Perry last week when he started off the game with a boneheaded unsportsmanlike penalty for that stupid throat slashing gesture. I mean, really, this is a well known thing not to do. Was he going to let petty emotions rule the day and neutralize his effectiveness on the field?
Luckily, he redeemed himself several times over through the course of the game. The offense may have fizzled in the second half and the secondary may have seemed lost at the same time. But Nick Perry made up for it and more. He made Clay Matthew’s absence less noticeable. He stepped up because that was what needed to happen. He was able to brush off the penalty. At the end of the day, his play on the field helped set the tone for an aggressive defense.
With Matthews up, Perry picked up the slack and rose to the occasion.
This past Sunday Perry made his presence known. With seven tackles (six solo), two sacks and two tackles for losses, he played aggressively on every play. He added to the pass rush along side Mike Daniels and made Detroit’s Matt Stafford run for his life on more than one occasion.
And when he knocked a pass out of the air, he resembled a nimble volleyball player blocking a spike at the net. His timing was impeccable, and Perry was hitting the peak of his leap just in time to bat the ball out of the air.
This was a different Perry than we have seen in the past. His anticipation of the play unfolding telegraphed into an aggressive punch from the defense, stifling the play before it could unfold and push into the red zone.
Perhaps this is the season where he finally meets the expectations that were set out in 2012. The Packers have long sought a formidable linebacking corps. The Packers thought they had it in AJ Hawk. While he was a solid leader on the field and in the locker room, his performance in games never quite lived up to the first round hype that he created when he was drafted. While he wasn’t a slouch by any stretch of the imagination, Hawk never seemed to find the aggressive fire that so many had counted on.
And for the longest time, it felt like Perry was settling into that good but not great category as well. Four years in and he’d yet to make a true name for himself on the field.
Maybe it was the relatively healthy offseason for him. Typically he has limped into the regular season nursing one nagging injury or another. But this year he hit the ground running as healthy as he’s been in years and perhaps with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Often in the shadow of the likes of Matthews and the grand old man Julius Peppers, Perry managed to step up while Matthews was forced to watch from the sideline and Peppers’ play is hit or miss.
This past Sunday Nick Perry played like the first round draft choice we hoped he would be. Fast, strong, unrelenting. That said, he acknowledges there is yet still room for improvement. After the game, he said the following, “I’m off to a great start, but I’m humble about where I’m at and where I need to go. Right now the main focus is getting better, improving for the next week and playing my best ball yet.”
That means not letting things slide after a good game or two. It means taking advantage of the bye week to be rested in healthy. It means not shrinking back into the shadows when Clay Matthews returns to play and not allowing him to pick up the slack. It means building on that productivity and aiming higher into the October stretch of games that the Packers have at home. It means facing long standing rivals–the Bears and Cowboys–and playing an integral role in dismantling their offensives before they even have time to get off the ground.
This is a Show Me the Money year for Nick Perry. Last year he signed a one year deal worth just north of $5 Million. That’s a lot of money for someone who was declared a bust by the pundits. At the end of the season he will be a free agent. So this is a make or break year for him. If he continues to produce like he did this week with a high level of consistency, Ted Thompson may want to keep him around. But if he shrinks back into the woodwork like has in so many other seasons, I highly doubt Thompson will waste that much in cap money come 2017.
Nick Perry is off to a very strong start this season. Time will tell if he is a new and improved Perry that will be the impact player that the Packers had always hoped for or if he slides into the mediocrity that he has unfortunately let dominate the first few years of his pro career.