USC's Nick Perry brings down Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert during an Oct. 22, 2011, game in South Bend, Ind. / File/Getty Images
The most telling thing about the Green Bay Packers’ situation at right outside linebacker came the week of the divisional playoff game against the New York Giants last season.
That’s when defensive coordinator Dom Capers decided to start seldom-used third-year pro Brad Jones, whose only previous start of the regular season came at left outside linebacker in the regular-season finale that starter Clay Matthews sat out in order to rest for the playoffs. Before that, Erik Walden had started the first 15 games of the season on the right side, and Frank Zombo had started the other.
How many teams scrap everything they did in the regular season and try someone new for a playoff game when injuries aren’t a factor?
One that got so little production, a mere six sacks, out of that position.
Though Jones came up with a sack in the playoff game — the Packers’ only one against the Giants — it was obvious to most everyone that another season of the Jones-Walden-Zombo triumvirate wouldn’t cut it for the Packers, who ranked last in the NFL in sack percentage in 2011.
Enter USC’s Nick Perry, who the Packers drafted Thursday in the first round with the 28th overall pick.
Though Perry played mostly with his hand on the ground as a defensive end in college, General Manager Ted Thompson picked him to play outside linebacker.
And he picked him to be an immediate starter even though Jones, Walden and Zombo remain on the roster. Walden was re-signed just last week.
In addition to those three, the Packers had a pair of rookie outside linebackers, Jamari Lattimore and Vic So’oto, make the team last season, but neither played much on defense. Of that right outside linebacker group, only Jones (seventh round) and Walden (sixth round) entered the NFL as drafted players.
Now, they have a pair of first-round outside linebackers in Matthews (2009) and Perry.
“You always hope that through competition that guy will surface,” Capers said shortly after Perry was selected. “Nick will come in, and we’ll throw him right into the competition and give him a chance to go out and show us what he can do. Guys have got to come in and earn it with what they do out there on the field, but we obviously think he has the potential to do that and be the kind of guy we’re looking for off the edge.”
Perhaps more than anything, the addition of the 6-foot-2¾, 271-pound Perry, a redshirt junior from Detroit, will help Matthews, his former college teammate. Perry was a redshirt and didn’t play during Matthews’ senior season, but the two practiced and worked out together.
Without another legitimate pass-rushing threat, Matthews had a career-low six sacks last season after posting 23½ in his first two seasons combined.
“Any time you add another good player to your team, whether it’s on offense or defense, it’s going to make other players around him better,” Thompson said. “I understand the theory about having two (pass-rushing outside linebackers), and one chases the (quarterback) to the other one, and that sort of thing.”
Though Thompson regularly insists he doesn’t draft for need, there might not have been a bigger need on the Packers’ roster than at outside linebacker.
“It wasn’t a need pick so much,” Thompson said. “But it was a guy that we had targeted and we felt could come in and contribute.”
Perry, who will wear No. 53, said he was aware of the Packers’ need for an outside linebacker who could bolster the pass rush but wasn’t sure where he would be drafted, so he didn’t focus on the Packers specifically.
He will begin the transition from defensive end in a little more than a week, when the Packers hold their rookie orientation camp May 11-13.
“I think I have the raw skills, and I have the mind to do it,” Perry said during a conference call shortly after he was drafted. “I think I have a lot to bring to the table. There’s a lot of potential that needs to be taken out of me.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.