Packers notes: Pass rushing will be top priority for Rashan Gary, Za'Darius Smith

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GREEN BAY – General manager Brian Gutekunst drafted Rashan Gary because he thought the versatile Michigan standout could do whatever defensive coordinator Mike Pettine required.

In the month and a half Pettine has worked with the first-round pick, he has played him at outside linebacker in the 3-4 and sub (nickel and dime) packages. At times, he has put Gary in position to drop into coverage just to see whether that is something he can handle.

“The outside backer group, we’re throwing it all at them, just to see,” Pettine said.

Also in that group are free-agent linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. However, when it comes to Gary and Za’Darius Smith, Pettine already knows what they’re going to be doing the majority of the time.

“Rashan was brought here to rush the passer, as was Za’Darius,” Pettine said. “Preston’s a guy that has a little more coverage stuff in his background but can still rush very effectively. We’re going to give it all to them.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) during practice at Clarke Hinkle Field on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

“That’s fine to see those guys dropping in the spring but, like I told Za’Darius, ‘You’re getting paid to go that way (forward) and not that way (backward).’”

Last year, Pettine dropped outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Kyler Fackrell into coverage to keep from being too predictable. Plus, both were pretty decent in zone coverage and could cover some tight ends and backs man-to-man.

With Gary and ZaDarius Smith, Pettine said they will drop into coverage some so that the defense isn’t predictable.

“We always like to have some change-ups where an offense can’t draw a bead and say, ‘Listen, he’s always (going to be here),’” Pettine said. “A big part of our pass-rush package is causing confusion as far as who the rushers and who the droppers are.

“You can’t have a guy that’s 100 percent rush. That makes it a little bit easier on them. So, there will be some drops; we certainly won’t major in it with those two guys, especially.”

McCray, Patrick get center reps

In the organized team activities, the Packers elected to give center reps to Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick and Cole Madison instead of second-round pick Elgton Jenkins, who played that position exclusively for two years at Mississippi State.

The start of the minicamp was no different, but McCray and Patrick wound up doing a lot more work at the position as starter Corey Linsley was held out of most of the day for precautionary reasons.

“Any reps (are good),” Patrick said. “Like last spring when Lane (Taylor) was dealing with some stuff, I was able to play next to David (Bakhtiari) and Corey. That’s huge learning, just to hear how they think through things, how they talk in a game, to hear 12 say a few things, bounce a few things off them. Even coached. There’s definitely instances – I’m headed in my fourth year but I’ve only got somewhere like eight starts, not as much as these guys – so they can say hey, on this why don’t you be a little heavier here, lighter here, more hands, less hands. It’s always good to get reps with those guys.”

At this juncture of the offseason, the Packers have moved players around on the line. Cole Madison has also taken reps at center while Billy Turner has worked at right tackle. So it wasn’t a surprise to Patrick or McCray to work that much over the ball.

“They knew that I played pretty much everything here before, so just keeping the same window – different days I’ll play different things and get a look in a bunch of different spots,” McCray said. “A lot of people are doing it. I’m used to it.”

Like McCray, Patrick just pointed to the fact that being able to be used in multiple spots only helps add value when roster decisions need to be made in September.

“In this league, being versatile helps,” Patrick said. “It helps guys like myself who can rely on a few different positions so you’re just trying to keep that open to as many possible places that I can play.”

Kumerow impresses again

It may be a new offense, but the magic between Aaron Rodgers and Jake Kumerow still exists. The duo hooked up for a pair of red-zone touchdowns Tuesday. Through the early part of OTAs, Kumerow has gotten reps with the first-team offense, and then he was worked in along with Trevor Davis and Equanimeous St. Brown for plays with Rodgers on the first day of minicamp.

“He is an extremely intelligent guy who is in the right place at the right time, he makes contested catches, he makes the plays that are there and he does the little things,” Rodgers said. “I’m always applauding in an overt way to let the other guys know this is the way to practice.”

Rodgers noted Kumerow caught a touchdown in a closed practice, utilizing a toe drag to stay in bounds. It was a small moment, but one the quarterback felt was important to highlight.

“Just little things like that he does I think almost separates him from a guy you might not trust as much because you know the guy is going to do it right, he’ll always be in the right spot, he knows what he’s doing all the time and what the other guys are doing,” Rodgers said. “And when he gets a chance to make plays, he makes plays. And he does it in a super classy, understated way. Obviously, I’m a big fan of him. I could keep going.”

Lewis gets excused absence

The only player on the 90-man roster who was not present Tuesday was veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, whom coach Matt LaFleur excused as Lewis works toward finishing his degree at UCLA.

“It's unfortunate they're on the quarter system and he couldn't be here because his presence is felt when he's here,” LaFleur said. “He's such a good, positive veteran player and he brings a lot to the table."

Joining safety Josh Jones on the sidelines were running back Tra Carson, cornerback Javien Hamilton, linebacker Greg Roberts and defensive lineman Mike Daniels.

Players who participated on a limited basis were Linsley, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Kevin King. Backup tackle Jason Spriggs left the field briefly to get his left elbow examined, but returned to complete the session.

LaFleur said Linsley had some stiffness to work through, but he feels King – who dealt with shoulder and hamstring injuries in 2018 – will be on the field full-time in late July and August.

“We fully anticipate him being full-go come training camp,” LaFleur said of the third-year cornerback.

Packers make front-office promotions

The Packers announced the promotions of Richmond Williams to director of pro personnel and Brett Thiesen to college scout.

Williams has spent 11 seasons in Green Bay, the last two as the pro scout and the previous five as a college scout.

Thiesen joined the Packers in 2018 as a scouting intern.

Closed quarters

During much of coach Mike McCarthy’s tenure, minicamps were open to the public.

Under LaFleur, this year's camp was closed.

The Packers didn’t give fans who had made vacation plans to attend the minicamp much advance notice, sending out a release Friday that all practices would be closed to the public. Up to this point, all the OTA practices that were open to the media were also open to the public.

Asked if there was something he didn’t want the public to see, LaFleur said, “I'll be honest with you guys: This is the first place I've been where OTAs have been open. This whole off-season-practices-open-to-the-public is a little bit new to me.

“So, I guess maybe I have to get used to that.”

The Packers typically allow the public to watch all of the training camp practices.

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