Late-blooming Kyler Fackrell positioned to boost Packers' pass-rush depth
GREEN BAY - This was Kyler Fackrell’s moment of truth. A practice rep that could halt all momentum. He was lined up across left tackle David Bakhtiari, day 1 of the Green Bay Packers wearing pads. On paper, the match-up offered little suspense.
Historically, the Packers' one-on-one, pass-rush drill has baffled Fackrell. In his first two training camps, he won only once. He lost 30 times.
So what happened next, perhaps nobody could have predicted.
Fackrell’s first few steps were a hard charge upfield. In the past, this is where a blocker would push Fackrell wide, nudging him past the quarterback. This time, Fackrell broke his tendency.
“I kind of gave him a little stab and was working upfield,” Fackrell said, “and just kind of felt his weight upfield a little bit, and then snapped back underneath.”
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Fackrell’s inside move stunned Bakhtiari. He wasn’t the only one. In a drill that rarely presents upsets, Fackrell beating one of the NFL’s best left tackles was monumental.
Except Fackrell would like to think of it as a new norm. Fackrell said he’s read the offseason storyline, that the Packers don’t have enough edge-rush depth. His wife, he said, shows him what people say on Twitter, the doubts aimed at him like darts.
He wants to prove every last detractor wrong.
“It is a little bit insulting, obviously,” Fackrell said. “But I don’t know if it changes the way I’m going to work. I’m going to work the same way regardless of what is said outside. It’ll feel good, obviously, when I prove those people wrong.”
The Packers haven’t done one-on-one, pass-rush drills with edge players since their first day in pads on Saturday, so Fackrell hasn’t had a chance to build on his upset. There have been plenty of other signs indicating Fackrell is a big part of their defensive plans. With veteran Nick Perry still on the physically unable to perform list, Fackrell has retained his place on the first-team defense.
Fackrell is part of an unproven outside linebacker group the Packers need to see emerge over the coming month. Ideally, they might have hoped Fackrell would already be established on defense. He was drafted in the third round in 2016 to give a veteran depth chart some young talent. In his first two seasons, Fackrell had just five sacks in 29 games.
His lack of production the past two years was frustrating, Fackrell admitted, but that started to change late last season. Fackrell’s first sack didn’t come until Week 10 against Baltimore, but he had another sack three weeks later at Cleveland and another two weeks after that against Minnesota. He said closing the season with three sacks gave him a springboard into this offseason.
“It just felt like the game was flowing a little bit more for me,” Fackrell said. “So obviously I did feel good, a lot better toward the end of that season, and hopefully it’ll carry over into this season.”
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It’s helped, Fackrell said, to add some pounds. Naturally undersized for his position – “I’m a pretty skinny guy,” he said – Fackrel has a problem many people would envy. He struggles gaining weight, forcing himself to eat and eat so 300-pound offensive tackles won’t push him around.
Over four years at Utah State, Fackrell said he grew from a 229-pound freshman to 240 pounds as a senior. He played at 245 pounds the past two seasons, though his weight usually dropped late in the fall. With coaches mandating that he get bigger, Fackrell spent the offseason eating even more. He included piles of brown rice and quinoa with dinners. He drank a protein shake each night before bed.
It didn’t make much difference – Fackrell said he gained only five pounds – but weighing into camp around 250 is more aligned with what the Packers want from their outside linebackers.
“To play the position and do the things we’re asking him to do,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “he’s had to put on some weight. So really now coming off of this second offseason program, I think you’re seeing a lot different player clearly than when he was a rookie.”
Through camp’s first week, it’s clear the Packers are giving Fackrell an opportunity. He is their No. 3 outside linebacker, behind Clay Matthews and Perry, until further notice. Snaps are his to lose.
Fackrell stopped short of saying it’s a make-or-break training camp, but he knows this is his opportunity. Rarely do players get second chances in the NFL. So, yes, beating Bakhtiari in a one-on-one rep was nice, but there’s much more work ahead.
“I do try to keep a calm demeanor,” Fackrell said, “but there’s no doubt since Day 1 I’ve felt pressure. You always feel pressure to perform. So yeah, I think there’s pressure. There’s pressure now as much as there has been. I know Year 3, there’s supposed to be that jump from Year 2 to Year 3, and I expect that from myself and I know that’s expected from the coaches as well.
“I wouldn’t say ‘make or break,’ but I definitely think there’s a high sense of urgency for me to produce and just improve and get better every day.”