Last spring, Rashan Gary arrived in Green Bay as a wide-eyed rookie going through a position change and dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. He also had the benefit of low expectations as a rookie, as the Green Bay Packers had just signed two big-name pass rushers in free agency to man the starting jobs in front of him.
Now heading into his second year as a pro, Gary is unquestionably the next man up on the edge behind Za’Darius and Preston Smith, and he’s ready to take a big step forward. But before he did that, he had to navigate a unique offseason with unique challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Offseason was a little bit different because of the COVID,” Gary told reporters on a Zoom call following the Packers’ Monday practice. “I had to go back to the high school workouts — running bleachers, running 110s, running gassers.”
It seems that the work has paid off, however. Multiple beat reporters suggested that Gary looks leaner to start this year’s training camp, an impressive feat considering he said that he weighed in at 276 pounds — about five or six pounds heavier than his arrival weight last season. Gary said that his body fat percentage hasn’t really changed, staying steady around “nine or ten percent.” Instead, he has a different theory for why, at age 22, he looks leaner despite coming in heavier: “I think I’m just growing into my grown-man body.”
Head coach Matt LaFleur, speaking earlier in the day, echoed reporters’ comments by saying that Gary returned to camp in “phenomenal shape.” He narrows the reason for Gary’s fitness down to a simple explanation: “One thing you can never question is how Rashan goes after it, his work ethic.”
Another person who is surely excited about Gary’s return is outside linebackers coach Mike Smith, who famously ran down the hallway with joy after the team picked the Michigan product in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Gary clearly enjoys playing for Smith, saying “Man, I love that man — he loves everybody in the room for who they are.”
Gary discussed some of the training techniques that the team went through in the virtual offseason program — “working on footwork, talking about offensive line sets, high hands, low hands, things like that” — but it’s clear that the personal connection Smith has built with his players is a crucial part of that group’s camaraderie. “I’m loving Mike Smith. If you’re listening to this, I love you and I’m ready to keep going to work.”
Finally, Gary discussed a pleasant surprise he received in April when the Packers selected one of his former Wolverines teammates, offensive lineman Jon Runyan, Jr. Gary said the two had “wonderful battles” in practice in college, and mentioned the qualities that should make Runyan a valuable member of the O-line room: “Grit, strong, he’s gonna finish after the whistle, and that’s what this team needs.”