Rashan Gary is Key to Keeping D-Line Fresh

Much to the chagrin of Green Bay Packer fans, the front office decided to go ahead and select defensive end Rashan Gary out of the University of Michigan, even after the team had signed both Preston and Za’Darius Smith that same offseason.  But with the Smiths having essentially put all of their chips already on the table with how they each performed in 2019, it is time for Gary to step up.

Coming into the league his rookie year, Gary was behind the ball due to the fanbase being quite unhappy with the selection, and while he may have been seen as a first-round grade, the 12th overall selection seemed to be a bit unexpected. And so far, he has been unable to justify that high draft slot, although his potential is through the roof.

In a recent Zoom meeting with the media, GB Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine was asked about his personnel usage, focusing on the defensive line, and he offered up some telling information for what to expect for this upcoming season.

“I do see Rashan taking a significantly increased role,” Pettine said. “I do think at times Preston and Z probably played a little too much, we want to take some off their plate. Rashan is certainly built to handle giving those guys a break.”

Playing in just over 23 percent of all defensive snaps in ‘19, Gary was utilized as a luxury and not as a proven commodity, which fits his exact role on the team. However, as the season ended, Gary was able to give fans and the coaching staff a look into what he is able to produce, even in a small sample size.

Pro Football Focus compiled game-by-game stat outlooks for Gary, noting that across Weeks 14 through 16, the former Wolverine earned one sack and pressured the quarterback five times, only in 27 pass-rush attempts. An 18.5 percent pressure rate is, while unexpected to be able to be sustained over the course of a full season, a very promising outlook at what he can bring to the table.

Moving Gary inside is something that fans should expect to see more of, especially in throwing situations on third downs, according to Pettine. In a role that Za’Darius Smith filled on occasion in ‘19, Gary would be asked to do the same, keeping the Smiths outside in their normal rushing positions while giving starting defensive tackle Kenny Clark a breather to try and keep his legs fresher too.

Another depth piece that combined with Gary for second-team reps was Kyler Fackrell, but he signed with the New York Giants this offseason, joining former starting middle linebacker Blake Martinez in an LB exodus over to the G-Men. Fackrell’s departure helps give Gary a larger snap share in Pettine’s scheme, but even though former first-round selections are commonly given better chances than other players, Gary still needs to earn a higher percentage, even though Pettine did comment that he will be used more.

By rolling Gary out on more defensive snaps in ‘20, it will not only help keep the Smiths and Clark fresher, but it will also let Pettine see what the former first-rounder can do. If he is able to string together some strong play, then the drop-off between the starters and Gary would not be as steep, helping make one of the more solid D units even more of a strength moving forward.

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Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23

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