'Deceptive' Elliott ready to show he belongs
Leaning against his locker, Jayrone Elliott thought about his nicknames and smiled.
Sam Barrington calls him "The Chosen One." Andy Mulumba and Mike Neal prefer "Sackmaster." The veterans, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, joke that he might be starting 16 games.
As reporters interviewed Elliott this week, safeties Chris Banjo and Micah Hyde — along with Barrington — pretended to bow in reverence.
It may be a good-natured ribbing, the same directed at any rookie. But the significance isn't lost on Elliott. When the Green Bay Packers' training camp started one month ago, hardly anyone knew Elliott existed. Now, handing him a nickname has turned into a popular locker room game.
"It gives you a lot of motivation to keep going because you start to build relationships with these guys, and you want to be around here for a long time," Elliott said. "So you're doing whatever you can just to fight for a roster spot."
Winston Moss describes the rookie another way.
The Packers linebackers coach calls Elliott "deceptive." At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Elliott doesn't necessarily look like he's moving fast. But looks can fool you.
Around the edge, there has been no disputing Elliott's explosiveness this preseason. The undrafted rookie from Toledo has four sacks in his past two preseason games, tied for the NFL lead.
Clearly, he's captured the attention of everyone around him, starting with his position coach.
"His athleticism, his speed, he's a little deceptive in that he's a glider," Moss said. "It doesn't look like it, but he's moving a lot faster, and being able to work against him in the individual drills, he's a lot stronger than you anticipate as well. That's very deceiving.
"He's been productive."
Productive may be an understatement.
After three sacks in a four-play span against the Rams, the question last week was how Elliott would build off his performance. He answered in resounding fashion, finishing with another sack and a batted-down pass against the Raiders.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers stopped short of labeling Elliott a surprise. Even if Elliott was a long shot to make the roster before camp opened, the Packers signed him for a reason.
Still, it would seem impossible for Green Bay to expect anything more than what Elliott has shown through three preseason games. If Elliott doesn't make the roster, chances are he's put enough highlights on film for another team to pick him up.
"You never know how fast a guy's going to pick things up," Capers said. "And now, it was rare in the St. Louis game, what he did there. But he did, he followed up and got another sack this last week. So it will be interesting to watch to see how he does Thursday night. Let's see if he can follow it up with more production."
Elliott will get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do when the Packers host the Kansas City Chiefs for their final preseason game Thursday, two days before the NFL deadline for rosters to be cut to 53 players.
His reps increased against the Raiders last weekend. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said they will increase once more against the Chiefs.
"I think Elliott's a great example of a young man given an opportunity," McCarthy said. "Obviously, three sacks in (four) plays, that doesn't happen every day. That just shows you his ability. I think he's gradually improved throughout his time here. When he's been given a chance, he's stepped up.
"Obviously played a lot more this past week against Oakland, and he'll play more than he ever has against Kansas City — both special teams and defense."
Elliott knows what's at stake this week. Asked if he's done enough to earn a roster spot, the rookie didn't hesitate. There is more work to do, he said.
Each year, final roster decisions hinge on what happens in the final preseason game. For undrafted players, Elliott said the fourth preseason game is where jobs are won or lost.
"You get the opportunity to go out there and play for a set amount of time and show them what you can do as far as the running game, passing game, special teams," Elliott said. "It's finally coming together so you can play a complete game and not just certain snaps, snaps here and there."
In past seasons, Elliott's roster spot might already be secure.
Since Capers arrived in 2009, the Packers always have kept five outside linebackers on their 53-man roster. The position hasn't always had a wealth of depth. With a renewed emphasis on outside linebackers this offseason, the dynamics changed.
Green Bay signed Peppers as a free agent to start at outside linebacker opposite Matthews. Mike Neal also signed a two-year deal in the offseason. Suddenly, one of the Packers weaker positions became a possible strength, just in time for Elliott to walk through the door.
It may not be the best timing for Elliott. It also might not matter. With the way he's played, Elliott could be one more solid performance from earning a job. There will be a lot of pressure Thursday night, but Elliott doesn't mind.
He's already come this far.
"I'll approach it just like any other game," Elliott said. "Just go out there ready to compete, and whatever happens, happens. Just go out there and give it all you can and just learn your responsibilities on any given play, and just try to go out there and compete.
"I just try to go out there every day and show the coaches I belong here."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood