Jayrone Elliott admits he's earned his paycheck more on special teams than defense during his rookie season.
Unlike many others before him, the Green Bay Packers' outside linebacker has had the benefit of sitting back and watching healthy veterans such as Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Neal take the lion's share of reps.
It wasn't until Perry missed last Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings with the shoulder injury that the Packers were left without their full complement of elephant rushers. Instead of burdening Neal with the extra snaps, defensive coordinator Dom Capers entrusted Elliott to step up.
After playing 18 snaps on defense all season, the undrafted rookie out of Toledo played 19 in Sunday's 24-21 win over Minnesota. He didn't have a sack, but still showed the explosiveness that earned him five sacks and a job during the preseason.
Elliott believes he could've played better. He could get a shot this Sunday against New England if Perry can't go. The former first-round pick is questionable after sitting out of practice Wednesday and Thursday, though he was estimated as a limited participant on Friday's injury report.
"I felt good out there. I didn't really feel good with the outcome of how I played," said Elliott, who finished with two tackles. "I felt like I should have made a couple plays. I felt like I had a lot of pressure but I should've made a couple sacks. That's just me holding myself accountable."
Trial by fire has been a common theme for rookie outside linebackers in Green Bay. Dezman Moses, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer were all inserted into the starting lineup in recent years due to injuries at the position.
Elliott had a few rookie moments against the Vikings. Since he hadn't taken many reps with the starting defense, there were a few times he had to tap inside linebacker A.J. Hawk on the shoulder and ask him to recite a call. That tuned him into how the veteran will abbreviate some declarations, a lesson only in-game snaps can teach a young defensive player.
As a pass-rusher, Elliott calls his style a bit "unorthodox," which allowed him to win a few battles with tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt. Elliott got a jump on Kalil on a rush near the end of the second quarter before the tackle grabbed his face mask for a 15-yard penalty.
"He's such a high-motor, fast-paced guy who presents a different pass rush and a different approach to the game," Matthews said. "It's good to see it. It also presents problems for the tackle who he was going against. I think he had a few good rushes in which he was close to the quarterback."
Whatever Elliott feels he left on the field last week, he may have the chance to bring back against the Patriots.
"You don't want to see anybody go down, but if Nick can't go I'll be excited to have the opportunity to go out there and play again," Elliott said. "It's about the team. If they need me to go out there and play safety or three-technique, I'll go out there and do it at a high level and try to go out there and compete."
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