Outside linebacker has been a sore spot for the Packers in recent years, and recent drafts have done nothing to help alleviate that issue. Vince Biegel is a candidate to get cut, Nick Perry can’t stay healthy, Clay Matthews has lost some explosiveness as he ages, and Kyler Fackrell is...something. One encouraging development this preseason, however, has been the outstanding play of Reggie Gilbert. Let’s look at some of his highlights so far.
Gilbert racked up a monster stat line for a preseason game in week two against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He managed 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles, and a forced fumble in 29 plays, and got to his stat line with a myriad of moves. He did it through dogged pursuit;
He was granted a gimme on a free rush, something we didn’t see much of from the Green Bay defense under the direction of Dom Capers:
And again, Gilbert was relentless in his pursuit of the football and it paid off. Aaron Kampman-esque.
A play I really wanted to highlight from that game, though, wasn’t a sack or a run stuff, but an easy win on a pass rush where Gilbert used more handwork than he had shown previously.
Reggie uses his inside arm to stab the blocker in the chest right under the collarbone; this keeps Chukwuma Okorafor from getting his hands in Gilbert’s chest too quickly. Sorry for the poor quality, but if you look close enough, you can see Gilbert’s left hand on Okorafor’s collar.
In the next photo, you’ll see Okorafor’s hands are starting to come up from his sides, about to deliver his punch. At the same time, Gilbert is raising his outside hand in order to chop down Okorafor’s punch.
Okorafor doesn’t get his hands on Gilbert who has the big foot speed advantage, and Gilbert gets to the edge. Only a last second push in the back keeps Gilbert from getting to Mason Rudolph.
Gilbert’s momentum from the Steelers game carried into the next week, where he was again disruptive in his pass rush. While he finished the game with only one sack and a forced fumble, his presence was felt whenever he was on the field. In fact, he managed to get pressure on Derek Carr on the very first snap:
It didn’t stop there. Just like I highlighted in the Steelers game, Gilbert showed good hand usage in rushing the passer. Gilbert, once again, throws a stab into his blocker with his inside arm. The timing of this stab is important; it lets you know that as a pass rusher, you’re now within arms length of your blocker and as soon as you’re at that distance, you can expect a punch coming from the blocker. Since you know the punch is coming, you know when to time your counter move. Gilbert did just that against first round pick and the Raiders’ LT of the future Kolton Miller:
Perfectly executed and perfectly timed, the only thing missing was the end result.
In most pass rush situations, Gilbert either tries to get to the edge with a speed move, or else counter by jumping back inside after taking a step or two outside. Against the Raiders, he tried something he hasn’t shown before; the bull rush.
Not only did the bull rush work, it worked against Donald Penn - three time pro bowler, 315 pound Donald Penn. Gilbert lowers his head and shoulders and got an excellent lean.
There’s two things to look at in this next photo; Penn’s feet and his shoulderpad height.
Offensive line play begins with your feet; if you don’t have good footwork it doesn’t matter how long and strong you are. Penn’s feet are on the same horizontal plane, which means he has no chance to absorb something coming at him. Here’s a fun test; ask someone to stand straight up with their feet underneath their shoulders, then push them backwards on one shoulder. They’ll always take a step back and end up with their feet staggered. Now do the same thing, but have them start with their feet staggered; they will probably sway a bit, but probably won’t move much. Do it a third time, with them bending their knees in a staggered stance; they aren’t going to move. That illustrates the importance of having a good base. Penn didn’t have a good base and it came back to bite him.
Green Bay’s outside linebacker group has been looking for an heir to Clay Matthews for some time now, and nobody has stepped up. Gilbert might be that man, and he might not be; only time will tell. Based on what we’ve seen so far in the preseason, though, the signs are encouraging.