LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 27: Defensive end Nick Perry #6 of the USC Trojans forces a fumble by quarterback Tommy Rees #13 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to set up USC's touchdown at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 27 2010 in Los Angeles California. Notre Dame won 20-16. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Green Bay Packers' defense was poor in 2012. Their pass rush was absolutely terrible and was the biggest problem with the defense. You've probably seen all of the stats by now, but I think it's worth reminding everyone how statistically poor the Packers were on defense in 2011. We'll use traditional and new, advanced stats to illustrate the point here.
Dead last in net yards against, dead last in passing defense, tied for 27th in sacks, 26th in third down stop percentage. From Football Outsiders, 24th in DVOA, 30th in adjusted sack rate. The Packers' defense simply was not good enough, especially at rushing the passer.
The loss of Cullen Jenkins was big, but the lack of production from the rotating ROLB brigade opposite Clay Matthews was worse. Erik Walden had three sacks, Brad Jones had one, Frank Zombo had one and Vic So'oto had one. Desmond Bishop and Jarius Wynn were more effective at rushing the passer than anyone at that spot.
Nick Perry is, if nothing else, a pass rusher. Even though he had his hand in the dirt most of the time he was rushing the passer in college, he knows how to get to the quarterback. He was productive in both of his last two years at USC and regularly faced double teams. He's a physical freak and has perfect size for a 3-4 OLB. He'll have every opportunity to win a job.
However, that doesn't mean that he's going to do it from the start. Perry will be asked to play an entire game standing up, regularly supporting the run and dropping into coverage from a standing position, for the first time in his career. He has the ability to do it, but the adjustment period might be tough.
During OTAs and minicamp, all eyes are going to be on Perry. You're going to read a lot of reports -- and probably a lot of conflicting reports -- on how he looks standing up. Someone's going to write that he looks awkward dropping back into coverage even if he's performing at or above the expectations of the coaching staff. This is inevitable.
I think Perry will be the starting ROLB in Week 1 and that he will start for 16 weeks if he stays healthy, but we have to acknowledge that there will be an adjustment period for him. It's very possible that Brad Jones or Erik Walden starts the season as the starter and primary 1st and 2nd down linebacker while Perry comes in on 3rd down. It's possible that he's a situation pass rusher all season.
We need to give Perry time to develop as a linebacker and learn all of the things that go along with being a linebacker. Guys like DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, LaMarr Woodley and Terrell Suggs all looked a bit awkward in the position in their first season and eventually adjusted to it brilliantly. Though Merriman's been a bit of a washout and Suggs has moved back to DE, the point still stands. The DE to OLB conversion takes a season, and the elite guys will learn.
Perry might not be a star from Day 1, but he will have a chance to win a starting job. If he doesn't win it, he's just going through the adjustment that everyone making his conversion has to go through, and he'll be ready to play every down in due time.