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Packers Training Camp Preview: Out with the old at Outside Linebacker

With a pair of veterans gone, Green Bay needs to find stability and production out of their young reserve pass-rushers.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing our series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster prior to training camp, Acme Packing Company examines the tight-end position and reveals the pre-camp predictions for the team’s 2017 53-man roster. Ten APC contributors submitted full roster predictions, and we will present the consensus predictions drawn from those individual guesses over the weeks leading up to camp.

In 2017, the Green Bay Packers had tough decisions to make on three veteran outside linebackers - Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, and Datone Jones. All three played significant numbers of snaps in the previous several seasons, with Peppers and Jones making a transition to a standing position in the past three years and Perry shortly before that.

Ultimately, the Packers brought back just one of that trio of pass-rushers, locking up Perry on a big new contract. With Peppers headed back to Carolina and Jones moving a few hours west to play for the Vikings, the Packers will have plenty of snaps to go around for their young depth players this season.

Here’s a look at the players who will be competing for roster spots in training camp this year as outside linebackers.

Returning Players

Nick Perry

Year: 6th
Age: 27
How acquired: First-round draft pick in 2012 (28 overall)

Last season, Perry proved to be an invaluable member of the Packers’ defense, setting the edge against the run and racking up double-digit sacks for the first time in his NFL career. Furthermore, he has shed the “injury-prone” label a bit recently, missing just five games total in the last three seasons. Admittedly, this has required some playing through pain, as he wore a club on one hand for the final few contests in 2016. Still, Perry is a sure-fire starter, and a healthy season from him should justify the Packers’ $18.5 million in guaranteed money that he received from the team in March.

Clay Matthews

Year: 9th
Age: 31
How acquired: First-round draft pick in 2009 (26 overall)

Matthews stats have dipped in recent years, first due (in part) to a move to inside linebacker and then to several nagging injuries last season. He missed four games last season with a handful of issues, and managed to rack up just five sacks while being effectively invisible at times.

Now fully healthy again, Matthews will need to work hard to maintain that health and avoid hamstring injuries that have affected him repeatedly in the past. There is still reason to think that a healthy Claymaker can be one of the league’s better edge rushers, but he has not been healthy and playing that position since the first half of 2014.

Jayrone Elliott

Year: 4th
Age: 25 (26 in November)
How acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2014

Since storming into Packers fans’ hearts during his rookie preseason, when he recorded three sacks in four plays against the Rams, Elliott has worked hard on special teams but has been rewarded with few snaps as an edge rusher. When he has played, he has looked very good — think back to his interception and forced fumble to seal a victory over the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. This year, he will likely be the first man off the bench when one of the starters needs a rest, and we should still see plenty of him on special teams as well.

Kyler Fackrell

Year: 2nd
Age: 25 (26 in November)
How acquired: Third-round draft pick in 2016 (88 overall)

Fackrell actually had a decent start to his NFL career early last year, but faded quickly into obscurity as the year went along. Lanky and lightly-built for an edge rusher, Fackrell focused on adding muscle this offseason to hold up better over the course of a long NFL season. He’ll be counted on like other players on this list to provide quality depth and a special teams presence.

Reggie Gilbert

Year: 1st
Age: 24
How acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2016

Gilbert spent all of last season on the practice squad, learning the tools to become an effective NFL pass-rusher. This year he has an excellent opportunity to make the team given the numbers game at the position. The former Arizona defensive end also will aim for a job on special teams, something he never played in college.

New Additions

Vince Biegel

Year: Rookie
Age: 24
How acquired: Fourth-round draft pick in 2017 (108 overall)

Drafted a few rounds after his teammate T.J. Watt, Biegel helped some Wisconsin Badgers fans cope with the team Packers skipping over the Wisconsin legacy prospect. Biegel arguably provides a more polished pass-rushing skill set, as he has played the 3-4 outside position throughout his career, and he will also bring plenty of experience on special teams to the table. The big question to start camp is the status of his ankle, on which he had surgery after rookie minicamp. However, the team has said they expect him to be ready to work on day one.

Johnathan Calvin

Year: Rookie
Age: 23
How acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2017

At Mississippi State, Calvin saw work at outside linebacker, defensive end, and even some tackle within the Bulldogs’ hybrid defense. These varied roles could earn him consideration as an “elephant” player, in a role similar to that vacated by Peppers and Jones. If he can demonstrate an ability to play both standing up and as an interior rusher in sub packages, he may be difficult for the Packers to leave off the roster.

Josh Letuligasenoa

Year: Rookie
Age: 23
How acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2017

Like Calvin and Biegel, the third rookie edge rusher also has 3-4 experience, as Cal Poly moved to an odd front two years ago. Letuligasenoa signed after a tryout at the Packers’ rookie minicamp, and should have plenty of opportunities in the second half of preseason games to make a splash like Elliott did three years ago.