GREEN BAY - Rashan Gary knows precisely what’s expected of him, starting this season.
“I’m out there to be a big performer,” Gary said. “To be a game changer.”
The question is how long will it take Gary to get there. Gary, the 12th overall pick in last spring's draft, has played into the third quarter of the Packers' first two preseason outings. With that extended play time, Gary has not registered in the box score. No sacks. Not even a single tackle.
Two preseason games does not a career make. Still, it could be enough to make a young player grow impatient. Gary said it’s only a matter of time until he starts making big plays.
“I feel like I’m getting better,” Gary said. “I’m picking things to improve on. I’m sitting down with coach, and we’re going over what I’m getting better at and what I need to improve on. So I’m keying on those things and making sure I’m getting them done in the game.
“I feel like the plays are going to come. I’ve just got to keep playing football and keep getting better, just focus on myself.”
There’s a reason Gary has played so much more this preseason than fellow first-round rookie Darnell Savage. Unlike Savage, a safety who’s still playing his college position, Gary faces a steeper transition. Gary has stood up in a two-point stance at outside linebacker predominantly in camp, something he didn’t do as a defensive end at Michigan.
Gary said he’s getting more comfortable dropping into coverage. He’s also adjusting to seeing more of the field, something a two-point stance allows but also demands more awareness. In the three-point stance, Gary could visual focus on a smaller area of the field.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said the Packers are pleased with Gary’s progress, despite the lack of production.
“Just kind of teaching him the outside linebacker position,” Pettine said, “we knew that he was going to be a little bit of a work in progress. Because like I said before, we’re teaching him all of it. So there’s some things he’s doing now that he won’t necessarily be doing in the regular season. As we get closer, we’re going to start to hone that down and put him in position where he’s ready to excel.”
Defense gets physical
After 43 missed tackles in two games, the message was relayed loud and clear for the Packers' defense.
So, in practice Sunday, which was conducted in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, they were making a lot of noise, mostly with their pads.
“That was the emphasis today and that’s what we tried to do,” linebacker James Crawford said of putting some more thud into the “thud” tackling periods.
On one off-tackle play, outside linebacker Preston Smith put his shoulder into running back Tra Carson and knocked him straight on his rear end. A few plays later, inside linebacker Brady Sheldon popped wide receiver Geronimo Allison, knocking him flat on his back.
In addition, the secondary was particularly aggressive, going for the ball on every occasion.
Cornerback Jaire Alexander ripped a ball out of receiver Allan Lazard’s hands at the goal line. Cornerback Tramon Williams put a hit on the ball as tight end Pharoah McKever hauled in a pass, knocking it in the air so teammate Tony Brown could pick it off.
And safety Will Redmond raked the ball out on a pass Malik Taylor seemed to have secured deep down the field.
“I thought the defense was much more physical,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think it surprised a couple of the guys on offense where they actually got knocked off their feet.”
Given LaFleur kicked safety Josh Jones out of practice early in camp for knocking someone to the ground, it appears he’s changed his mind on practice physicality after two horrid exhibition game tackling performances.
The defense worked for a considerable amount of time in practice on individual tackling drills as well. Most of them were aimed at taking better angles and squaring up to the ball carrier.
Looking to speed things up
When you watch the Los Angeles Rams offense, which LaFleur has modeled his after to an extent, the players get in and out of the huddle quickly and try not to waste a lot of time, figuring the faster they go, the more plays they can get in and the tougher it is for the defense to keep up.
Watching the Packers' offense, there’s very little of the fast tempo you see with the Rams. LaFleur has stressed that aspect to the offense all through camp, but it hasn’t resulted in a sped-up operation quite yet.
“We’re not there yet,” receiver Davante Adams said. “We’ve definitely got a little way to go but we’ve got some time. We’re slowing it down by design a little bit right now to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing so they can execute assignments.
“As we start diving into it with the quarterback that we have, I feel like we have a lot of intelligence in this locker room on the offensive side, definitely. We’ll definitely get there.
Jamaal Williams back at work
After missing 12 practices and two games with a hamstring pull, running back Jamaal Williams was on the field Sunday.
His time off covered three weeks, so he had to occupy much of his time pretending he was running in the cleats of the other running backs.
“I’m still trying to be the best I can be for my teammates,” Williams said. “Just polishing everything, even when I’m not taking the practice drills, the plays, just go ahead and take those mental reps; just take it from there and put it in my game when it’s time.”
Williams said it was hard missing as much time as he did because he felt like he was ready to return. But the medical staff didn’t agree and made him take more time off than he probably wanted.
“It’s just a mutual agreement that you feel good,” Williams said of when he was cleared to return. “They just want to make sure you’re healthy all the way. You don’t want to come thinking you’re healthy and you re-injure it. They just want the best. They want us to be healthy.”