Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry celebrates his sack of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers during the first half of Thursday night's preseason game in San Diego. / Lenny Ignelzi/AP
There were shades of the 2011 version of the Packers’ 32nd-ranked defense — missed tackles, blown coverages and communication errors — but at least one thing looked better: the guy on the opposite side of Clay Matthews was someone to be reckoned with.
First-round draft pick Nick Perry did some good things from his left outside linebacker position. On the second play of Thursday’s preseason opener at San Diego, Perry bull rushed Chargers starting right tackle Jeromey Clary and sacked starting quarterback Philip Rivers. And this was no rookie that Perry beat. Clary has been the Chargers primary starter the last four years and has started 58 of a possible 64 games over the stretch.
The sack was nullified because of a bogus unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Perry, who used Matthews’ muscle flex celebration. That never would’ve been called by the regular refs, who are in a labor dispute with the league, but the replacement refs flagged it.
Intent on giving Perry plenty of work, defensive coordinator Dom Capers left him in the game for much of the first half even after the rest of the starters were taken out of the game.
In the second quarter, Perry drew a holding penalty on Clary.
Last year, the Packers got only six sacks from the outside linebacker position opposite Matthews, who had a career-low 6 sacks.
If Perry can have this kind of impact, he’ll do exactly what the Packers drafted him to do — take defensive attention away from Matthews, who was often double teamed last year.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell how running backs are performing in training camp because there’s no live tackling.
Even without that, it looked like James Starks was off to a slow start.
Thursday’s preseason opener confirmed that. On the Packers’ first play from scrimmage, Starks dropped a routine pass and then later on the same series he lost a fumble.
Starks has dropped a few passes in training camp and has drawn the ire of Rodgers for missing a blitz pickup or two, but he hadn’t fumbled in practice. He carried five times for 16 yards with a long run of 5 yards.
The Packers handed Starks the starting job after choosing not to re-sign Ryan Grant even though Starks hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough for an entire season yet. Perhaps Alex Green or Marc Tyler, who had a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter but also lost a fumble, will get a chance to push Starks for the job.
Did you notice?
• Cornerback Tramon Williams, who returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers last season, picked off Rivers in the first quarter.
• After Rivers left the game, the Chargers went to their fourth-string quarterback, Jarrett Lee, an undrafted rookie free agent. He led a five-play, 69-yard scoring drive against the Packers’ No. 1 defense. He capped it with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Brown.
• Undrafted rookie Dezman Moses replaced Matthews on the second series. He also played on special teams and made an open-field tackle on punt coverage.
• Erik Walden, who started 15 games last year at the outside linebacker spot opposite Matthews, got a quarterback hit on Lee in the third quarter.
• Vic So’oto, who made the team last year on the strength of 2½ preseason sacks, recorded a sack in the fourth-quarter. He had been off to a slow start in camp.
• As he has done in past preseasons, Mike McCarthy went for a 2-point conversion after a fourth-quarter touchdown, which failed, when an extra point would’ve tied the game.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.