GREEN BAY- Had Kyler Fackrell come along in the first five years of the Dom Capers’ era in Green Bay, he might have been considered a godsend.
The Packers often were just grabbing at straws trying to fill out a depth chart at outside linebacker that began and ended with Clay Matthews.
It’s why forgettable names such as Cyril Obiozor, Diyral Briggs, Jamari Lattimore, Dezman Moses and Vic So’oto spent time on the 53-man roster, and people like Brady Poppinga, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer had to start games.
Times have changed, at least in the view of 11th-year linebackers coach Winston Moss.
“We’ve got it all,” Moss said Tuesday. “We have guys that can rush with power, we’ve got guys that can rush with athleticism, we’ve got guys that can rush with speed. We have experienced guys, we have explosive guys, we have young guys, we have developing guys.”
The Packers drafted Fackrell in the third round from Utah State without knowing what they know today. That is, that Nick Perry would stay healthy (so far), that Datone Jones would make a reasonable transition from defensive end and that former Bronco Lerentee McCray would look better than the typical low-budget “street” free-agent signee in mid-April ($50,000 signing bonus).
One week into training camp, the pairings at the position have been consistent: Matthews and Perry work with the 1’s, Julius Peppers and Jayrone Elliott with the 2’s, Jones and McCray with the 3’s and Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert, a rookie free agent, with the 4’s.
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The Packers kept nine linebackers on opening day 2015, 11 in ’14 and 10 in ’13. With at least three and probably four jobs expected to fall at inside linebacker, it’s one of the team’s deeper positions.
Fackrell, 6 feet 5 inches and 245 pounds, hasn’t missed a drill since reporting for offseason practice. As the third of the team’s seven draft choices, he hasn’t performed to the early level of nose tackle Kenny Clark or inside linebacker Blake Martinez but has held his own.
“He has some of the characteristics from a length standpoint, from a pass-rush standpoint that you look for,” Capers said. “He runs well. I think he’ll comprehend things. He’s got some natural pass rush.
“He’ll be a fun guy to watch in preseason games to see how he stacks up against other competition.”
The practice inside Lambeau Field on Sunday night probably was Fackrell’s best. He read a bootleg, showed burst to quarterback Joe Callahan and contained the play. He had two hurries and a near-sack on a well-run twist.
A performance like that before a crowd of 66,397 would buoy the spirit of any rookie looking for a shot of confidence, and Fackrell was no exception.
“Obviously, you have the expectation you want to win every time,” he said. “So you get shut down sometimes and it gets frustrating. You’re trying to figure out what went wrong, what could you have done differently. But I do think I’m making progress.”
Under general manager Ted Thompson, the Packers haven’t released a draft choice selected in the first three rounds as a rookie, not even linebacker Abdul Hodge (third round, ’06), quarterback Brian Brohm (second round, ’08) or defensive end Khyri Thornton (third round, ’14).
Fackrell expressed realism when he considered how the arc of his career might unfold.
“First year, obviously with the great players ahead of me, special teams,” he said. “For right now I think that’s where I’m going to make the most impact.
“Then, moving on from there, the best thing will be as a pass rusher. I think I can be a great pass rusher.”
Fackrell has yet to win in six reps during the one-on-one pass-rush drill but his performance has been nothing like that of Ricky Elmore, the sixth-round pick in 2011 who was a bust from the start.
“Kind of one of those Swiss Army-type players that can do a lot,” said rookie right tackle Kyle Murphy, a sixth-round pick. “He impressed me with a lot of his different pass-rush moves. He just kind of uses his speed and his athleticism to try to get around you. Not a ton of girth and weight behind him.
“I think eventually, once he develops more strength, I think speed to bull rush will be something he can utilize more.”
Elliott, the free agent from Toledo in his third season, led the league in exhibition-game sacks with five in 2014 but insisted Fackrell was much more advanced than him as a rookie.
“I think he has a great knack for rushing the passer already,” Elliott said. “He has very good get-off, good pad level, kind of older, kind of gets it. I feel we’re the same kind of rushers. We use our hands, and we bull rush as the third or fourth option.”
Starting 41 games in a 3-4 defense for the Aggies, Fackrell was a big-play machine with 16 turnover plays and 12 sacks. The majority of his sacks came off the edge and, when tackles overset to shore up the outside, there were pressures inside.
In the first week, Fackrell generally has been pushed wide on his rushes, and other than a sharp bull rush against Murphy on Sunday night his attempts to power rush have been minimal.
The bench press, especially for players with long arms, can be a misleading gauge of strength. Still, the fact remains that Fackrell’s 15 reps at the combine were the fewest by an outside linebacker.
Fackrell improved to 16 at pro day in March, when he weighed 245 as he did at the combine and as he does now.
The average weight of the seven other outside linebackers is 263. In time, Fackrell can see himself playing at 250, but isn’t worried a bit about being able to stop the run now at his 245.
“I’ve met with the coaches about my weight,” he said. “They’re fine with it. Obviously, especially the offensive linemen, they’re stronger than I am and they weigh more. If I can just kind of keep them out of my body and try to use my athletic ability … “
Only Julius Peppers, at 6-6, is taller than Fackrell in the group. After taking a year off to paint houses in his hometown of Mesa, Ariz., the 24-year-old Fackrell weighed just 200 when he signed to play college football. He has the frame to get as big as the Packers desire.
Other than weight and the bench press, Fackrell stacks up well with the competition in Green Bay. He ranks first in the Wonderlic intelligence test (32), second in hand size (10 1/8 inches), tied for second in broad jump (10-1), third in 40-yard dash (4.65), fourth in vertical jump (34 ½) and tied for fourth in arm length (33).
The Packers never hesitated taking Fackrell deep in the third round because of his length, his speed, his athleticism and his work ethic. In time, they expect him to be a player. He does, too.