“Here we go again.”
When reports surfaced Wednesday Nick Perry would start training camp on PUP with an ankle injury, that had to be the thought bounding through the heads of most Packers fans. Perry, an exceptional talent who could be dominant if he could stay healthy, hadn’t practiced a snap in camp—hell, camp hadn’t even opened—and he was already hurt.
The PackIRs strike again, right?
But then we heard the injury wasn’t serious and shouldn’t stop him from playing once the season opens. Assuming that’s true, Perry’s injury might actually help the Packers.
At this point in his career, Perry doesn’t need the training camp reps or the preseason work. Model behavior for young players, give opposing offensive linemen a credible opponent in practice, and he’s done his job. For as often as he’s hurt, Perry keeps his body in impeccable physical condition. The former USC Trojan is built like he was created in Madden.
Playing himself into shape shouldn’t be a concern. When he’s healthy, he’ll be ready to go.
Instead, Perry can still be on the sidelines, still be at practice helping out the younger players who will now get a chance to run with the starters. Perhaps Kendall Donnerson will have a chance to run with the 2’s instead of the 3’s a little bit more. These kinds of distinctions matter a great deal to a team on the verge of not having enough pass rushers off the edge.
Mike Pettine’s history provides a roadmap for managing a defense with sub-par edge talent and Clay Matthews still has plenty of game left, but he’s hardly the paragon of health either. Getting players like Vince Biegel, Reggie Gilbert, Chris Odom, and yes, even Kyler Fackrell to run with the ones, learning Pettine’s system and growing with valuable live reps, means invaluable player development opportunities.
On the margins, guys like Donnerson and Naashon Hughes will get more practice reps and potentially more snaps in preseason simply because there’s one less body in camp. Perry never needed those reps in an important way, which means giving them to other players serves as an essential evaluation tool for the Packers as well as a growth opportunity for the players.
With training camp reps so precious, particularly early in training camp with the ballooned rosters, every snap matters. Even if it’s just 10% more, that difference could very well be enough for a player to flash just enough to make the next cut where they’ll get even more opportunity to show their talent and grow their game.
Perry’s injury should still give Packers fans pause about his overall health. Perhaps a superstitious type would suggest it’s better to get this one out of the way early (that’s not a thing by the way). His inability to stay healthy has revealed perilously thin depth at outside linebacker in the past.
Don’t be surprised to see Brian Gutekunst peruse the free agent market after some of these pre-season cuts to try and bolster the unit. Counting on Nick Perry and Clay Matthews to combine for 32 regular-season game would be a fool’s errand. But that’s a long-term problem.
In the short term, the Packers will be able to take advantage of Perry’s absence to boost the development of young players who will inevitably have to play meaningful snaps for this defense in 2018.