Packers' Elliott making a play for more action

Stu Courtney
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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis (83) celebrates his special teams play with linebacker Jayrone Elliott (91) against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

Say this for Jayrone Elliott: When the Packers’ second-year outside linebacker gets an opportunity, he tends to make the most of it.

Elliott, a key special-teams contributor since earning a berth on the active roster as an undrafted free agents at the start of the 2014 season, has played only 166 snaps on defense this season at his crowded position. That’s well behind the action logged by starters Julius Peppers (604) and Mike Neal (629), as well as reserve Nick Perry (269) and defensive end/outside linebacker Datone Jones (283), according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

But when Elliott does see the playing field, he does things that get noticed. In 13 plays against the Cowboys last Sunday, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Toledo graduate recorded a sack, a quarterback hit, a batted pass, a tackle and two stops (a solo defensive tackle that produced an offensive failure, in PFF parlance).

It was reminiscent of Elliott’s early-season success, when he was hailed as a “playmaker” after intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble while playing only nine defensive snaps against Seattle in Week 2 and then recording his first sack and two tackles on only 15 snaps the next week against Kansas City.

“We like Jayrone. He’s another one of those guys that has gotten better and better,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We saw a little flash a year ago as a rookie in the preseason (when Elliott led the NFL with five sacks), he had the ability to get on the edge and rush the passer. He’s an athletic guy.

“When you see guys make plays, you’re trying to find ways to get them onto the field and get them more playing time. Guys earn their way onto the field and guys who make plays are going to get more playing time.”

Elliott, 24, sat down with Press-Gazette Media last week to discuss his role with the Packers:

You had your first sack in a while against the Cowboys. Did you feel like you were due?

It felt pretty good to get back out there and make a play. It’s been a couple months, it feels like. But there no feeling like getting a win.

You’ve made some impact plays, but is it difficult to get on the field with all the competition at outside linebacker?

Yeah, it’s been hard trying to get many reps. And then when I do gets reps it will be like one here, two there. But I’m just trying to be the best team player that I can be.”

You’ve been described as making “splash” plays. Is that something you think about when you’re out there?

I’m just try to go out and make plays … keep my job (laughs). Most of the time when I’m out there, teams are keying on Clay (Matthews) and that gives me a little edge.

What do you feel you bring to the defense when you’re out there?

“Energy. Pass-rush skills. I feel like I can drop into coverage. I feel like I do it all.”

What’s the key to being a good pass rusher?  How do you beat the blocker?

First of all, I get off the ball and I try to see and feel the drop of the quarterback and what the tackle is doing. Sometimes they block down and send a tight end back toward you; you have to know the different blocking protections and schemes. … You have to do certain moves, it’s not just speed. You have to set the edge, or sometimes you have to bull rush.

How about defending against the run, what’s your approach with that?

Just getting off the ball and when the guy comes at you, setting a firm, hard edge. Making sure you protect your gap on a run and if it’s play-action, just transition rush.

Your five sacks led the NFL during the 2014 preseason. Did you know then that you belonged in the NFL?

I always dreamed of being in the league. I didn’t realize I belonged in it until the last offseason when I sat back and reflected on the season we had (in 2014) and the things that I accomplished. It just made me want to work harder and continue to capitalize on the opportunity.

How do you approach your special-teams roles? What’s your mindset?

“Just go out there and play hard, have a good attitude and be a leader. Sometimes in a game, the defense or the offense has a lull and that’s when I try to make a play if I can. … Get the ball and protect the ball. Make a tackle, get the ball out. Just get my block and do everything I can to spring the returner.  It’s just attitude and effort. Who wants it more? … We gotta bring it every day. That’s one thing coach (Ron) Zook does, he challenges us and that’s one of the things that makes us better.”

What do you enjoy doing away from the field?

I like to hang out with my son (Braylon), he’s 1 year old. We like to watch Sponge Bob and Mickey Mouse. If I’m not doing that I’m hanging out with teammates, going to the movies or playing NBA 2K.

— and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt

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