Competitive linebacker room fuels Palmer's fire

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Green Bay Packers' Nate Palmer in a 2013 preseason game against Seattle at Lambeau Field.

Nate Palmer hasn't always been this competitive.

It wasn't until his best friend at the University of Illinois, Evan Frierson, pulled the future Green Bay Packers outside linebacker aside one day and prescribed him a dose of reality.

The lesson was simple. Whether you're in high school, college or the NFL, there are only so many spots to go around. Inherently, the game requires you to fight for yours.

The message hit home with Palmer. When he and Frierson transferred to Illinois State soon after, Palmer brought a new attitude with him to the Redbirds and started all 24 games his final two collegiate seasons.

By the time the Packers drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft, Palmer was a new man.

"I want to tie my shoes the fastest. I love it," Palmer said. "It's something I've developed over time because I didn't use to be as competitive as I am now, but I guess it's a good and bad trait. My girl hates it."

After carving out a roster spot last year, the 6-foot-2, 248-pound outside linebacker is again in the middle of a fierce position battle. With Mike Neal and Nick Perry starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, Palmer has been afforded extra reps with the first-team defense at times.

It's a reminder of his rookie season when both he and Andy Mulumba were tossed into action with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry missing a combined 11 games with injury. Both rookies, converted college defensive ends, ended up seeing more snaps than anyone expected in their debut seasons.

Palmer played 281 total snaps with 196 of those coming on defense, but Pro Football Focus only credited him for two pressures (both quarterback hits) on 96 pass-rushing snaps. He finished with 17 tackles in eight games (two starts).

Palmer has flashed potential early in this year's camp. He beat practice-squad tackle Aaron Adams twice during one-on-one drills Monday and continued to take occasional first-team reps in place of the Neal and Perry.

"When they come back, reps will be cut down tremendously," Palmer said. "It's given me a chance to work on things we worked on this offseason in IPWs, OTAs and mini-camp. It's given me an experience of running with them for future reference that may have to happen again."

The Packers only kept five outside linebackers during last year's cut down, but Julius Peppers, Neal and Perry's tweener attributes could lead to more players making the roster at the position this year.

The Packers like Bradford's upside, so it might come down to Palmer holding off the likes of Mulumba, 6-foot-6 rookie Adrian Hubbard and Toledo rookie Jayrone Elliott for one spot. The Packers also have two intriguing undrafted candidates at inside linebacker in Joe Thomas and Jake Doughty.

So if it's competition Palmer wants, Packers general manager Ted Thompson and his staff have certainly obliged.

"Competition brings out the best in anybody," Palmer said. "If you're afraid of competition, I don't think you would be here. Competition, some people thrive off of, some people fought off of. I love competition."

- and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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