Should the Packers Use Nick Perry at Inside Linebacker?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at one new possible way for a former first-round draft pick who appears to be caught in the shuffle at outside linebacker to find his way onto the field in certain situations.

The Packers did not address their perceived need at inside linebacker during last week's draft, and other than re-signing Jamari Lattimore to a Restricted Free Agent tender, they did not address the position in free agency either. The most surprising thing is that the team added more talent to the outside linebacker/pass-rushing specialist unit in that time, and there now appears to be a log-jam for playing time at that position.

Julius Peppers will almost certainly start at either left defensive end or left outside linebacker in the new hybrid "elephant" position depending on whether the team starts games in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Mike Daniels and Datone Jones appear to the favorites to be the full-time starters at the defensive end spots in the regular 3-4 scheme, while A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, and Clay Matthews will likely be the other starters in the linebacker unit.

The one name that sticks out to me as missing in this shuffle is Nick Perry. Perry has been slowed by injuries in his first two seasons with the Packers, but has shown flashes of becoming a pass-rushing specialist when he is at 100% and playing with confidence.

Just remember the hit that put him on Packers' fans radar his rookie year:

(We'll argue that's still not a penalty, by the way.)

The biggest knock on Perry is that he is kind of a "tweener" linebacker/defensive end type. He also sometimes struggles to shed blocks and doesn't play well in tight quarters. That probably doesn't bode well for playing inside linebacker, where you are routinely asked to take on guards and centers in order to get to the ball carrier.

The reverse side of that argument is that Perry has the size, athleticism, and pass-rushing repertoire to be an above-average blitzer from the inside linebacker position on passing situations. His coverage technique needs work, but his physical skills make him a possible replacement for A.J. Hawk on third down, when Hawk is often victim to athletic tight ends and running backs.

Perry's biggest asset may be his balance and core strength for his relative size (6-foot-3 and 265 pounds). He routinely uses his bull-rush move to disarm blockers, and may have more success against guards and centers than he would against bigger, more agile tackles. Perry has only recorded six total sacks in his two seasons with the Packers, and while he has missed plenty of action due to injuries, he's also been neutralized by opposing offensive lineman too. A move to the inside could allow Perry to utilize his quickness and bull-rush technique more effectively than having him get stymied by opposing offensive tackles from his outside linebacker position.

Carl Bradford was mentioned as being versatile enough of an athlete to handle moving from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, but Bradford has the same detractors as Perry, and I believe Perry's size would make him a more suitable prospect at the position. Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington are suitable back-ups at inside linebacker, but Lattimore proved to be inconsistent throughout most of the second half of the season last fall when injuries struck most of the starters and Barrington was used almost exclusively on special teams before suffering an injury of his own.

Perry may ultimately end up being the long-term answer at the "elephant" position once Peppers is no longer in the fold, and will most likely split snaps with Peppers at that position this fall. However, I believe the coaching staff should attempt to squeeze every ounce of potential out of Perry, who was a first-round draft pick in 2012, and put him in a position where he can benefit the team from multiple positions on the field.

Most coaches believe that you should place your best pass rushers on the outside, but if the team is going to use Peppers, Matthews, and Bradford in that capacity, why not put Perry on the field to apply pressure directly up the middle? It doesn't have to be a permanent move, but it would make more sense than letting a former first-round draft pick sit on the sidelines.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com.
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