Rather than make major personnel changes on defense after last season's 579-yard playoff debacle against the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers are instead counting on the development of several young players whose efforts in 2012 were incomplete at best. Atop that list is linebacker Nick Perry, who was a part-time player in the first six games of his rookie season before missing the rest because of knee and wrist injuries.
As a result, Perry was on my list of players to inquire about earlier this month at Packers minicamp. The bad news was that he was still wearing a brace on his left wrist, which he had surgery on last November. But he was participating throughout minicamp and coach Mike McCarthy said he is expected to be at full strength by the start of training camp.
The good news: Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who last year detailed for us the long road Perry had in front of him as he transitioned from defensive end, rained effusive praise when asked about his development.
"He looks different," Greene said. "He moves different to me. He moves with more sense of urgency and purpose. His eyes are different. His gaze is different. I can just look at his face and look at in his eyes and know he's not happy with what transpired last year and he's determined not to let that happen again this year."
Perry played only 198 snaps in six games before his injuries, a modest average of about 33 (or roughly half) per game. But in looking back to that relatively short stint, Greene said he felt confident Perry had made progress -- most notably in the unfamiliar realm of pass coverage.
Greene pointed to the Week 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts as evidence. Perry, of course, had one sack in that game and lost another due to penalty. But what caught Greene's eye was an effort in pass defense against Colts receiver Reggie Wayne.
"He carried Reggie Wayne vertical up the field in a Cover 2 concept and it was as good as I can coach it," Greene said. "He carries an All-Pro vertical up the seam in a hip-trail position. That tells me: You know what, he can do everything coverage-wise. He progressed during his time last year as a player."
Proficiency in pass coverage will keep Perry on the field in 2013. But his pass rush and speed on the edge are why the Packers drafted him last season and how he can best help them address the issues that surfaced in the playoffs. Greene sees them as all part of a larger picture.
"This position takes a little time to settle into," he said. "It's hard to come out of the gate at this position because there's so much involved with the eyes. Nick is going to get better with more time on the job. That's the bottom line. He's got to be in the cleats. Smelling the grass. Having fun. Opening his eyes. Making good plays. Building confidence. And that's just the natural progression of a player."