Perry Not a Star Yet, But...
by Mike Conklin
August 3, 2012
So far, Nick Perry has not taken the Packers training camp by storm. He has shown flashes in a play here and there, but for the most part there has not been much news about him at all.
Of course, the Packers would have loved it if he had immediately proven to be an unstoppable force from the moment he walked in the door. That doesn't happen often, especially for players drafted at the bottom of the first round.
What they have seen at this early stage, however, is that he at least looks like he belongs. He doesn't remind the team of Joey Jamison, for example.
Jamison was the player drafted by Ron Wolf in the fifth round of the 2000 draft that was supposed to vie for the open returner position that had never been solved since Desmond Howard left town. In one of his first practices, Ron Wolf stood by watching while Jamison fielded several punts. He dropped most of them.
"I guess I (expletive) that one up," Wolf famously quipped.
It was obvious to Wolf immediately that he had wasted a draft pick on Jamison. And while Ted Thompson would never provide that kind of sound bite for the media, what happened with Ricky Elmore last year wasn't that much different.
The Packers can take solace in the fact that they are not hearing any whispers like that about Nick Perry. He looks the part. He is an elite athlete, and his talent and potential is obvious. He is going through a major transformation, and the Packers know it. Virtually his whole life, Perry has played defensive end. He is used to putting his head down and pinning his ears back on every down. Now, he is being asked to keep his head up, read several things that he never really had to pay attention to before, and make decisions within milliseconds. It should come as no surprise that it may take him a while to become accustomed to his new role.
But at least he looks the part, and he isn't embarrassing himself out there for the Packers. That's more than their neighbors to the south can say.
The Bears surprised many when they chose Shea McClellin with the 19th overall pick in last April's draft and slotted him as a defensive end. From the outside looking in, it seemed like a curious move. McClellin had widely been considered a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, and at first glance did not seem to fit the Bears scheme. McClellin had been linked to the Packers by countless draft prognosticators, and many fans were disappointed when the Bears selected him nine slots ahead of the Packers.
After the first round was complete, there were many comments to the effect that it looked like the Packers and Bears should have picked the other player. Perry looked like like was custom-made to be a defensive end in Lovie Smith's scheme, while McClellin's high motor and body frame looked like he would make a good bookend outside linebacker across from Clay Matthews.
Just over one week into training camp, it's way too early to make any real judgements about rookie players. But at this point, when comparing these two players, the Packers have to be happy with how things have played out so far.
Simply put, McClellin hasn't looked good. He has struggled when engaged with blockers, and there have been many well-publicized "Welcome to the NFL" moments to date. McClellin has been dominated by tackles like J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, who are not among the league's elite, and has even struggled with some of the backups. As one blogger observed, "In one sequence, undrafted free agent offensive lineman James Brown offered the rookie some all you can eat pancakes, if you know what I mean."
One of the biggest questions about McClellin is whether he was just drafted to play the wrong position. In an interview with WSCR Radio yesterday, 15-year veteran Bears linebacker Doug Buffone seemed less-than-impressed by McClellin's performance early in camp.
"He does not represent to me in my mind what a defensive end (should be)...especially a left defensive end...because most people run to the right," Buffone said. "This kid was brought in specifically for the left defensive end. I tell you, I smell something here. I've watched this kid...he looks like a middle linebacker to me."
After less than a week in practice, it is simply too early to make lasting judgements. But at the same time, players can make first impressions that last, whether for good or for bad. Buffone was asked if it was possible if a player that had looked as bad as McClellin during his first week could rebound and play much better by the end of camp. He offered a strong response.
"Most of these guys...if they're good, they're good," Buffone said. "Let me give you an example. My last year of football was Dan Hampton's first year. He stepped on the field the first day of practice, and all hell broke loose. You knew...you knew...what this guy was going to be. There was nobody pushing Dan Hampton around."
Dan Hampton is a Pro Football Hall of Fame player and was drafted fourth overall, so it is obviously not fair to compare him to Shea McClellin, or Nick Perry for that matter. Buffone's point still remains. If a player is going be be a star, you can usually tell right away. And if he's going to be a bust, you can almost always tell. Just ask Ron Wolf, after he watched Joey Jamison field punts.
While Perry hasn't appeared outmatched like McClellin has at times so far, he hasn't particularly looked like a star. The Packers appear unconcerned. There have seen several examples in Green Bay of players who have made major strides from when they were first drafted or acquired. With their philosophy of investing a lot of training and development in younger players, the Packers have a proven track record in turning players who may have had a quiet start to their careers into solid starters, if not stars. Tramon Williams didn't make a particularly strong first impression in the NFL, as he was cut by the Texans before latching on to the Packers practice squad. Now, he has proven to be one of the better cornerbacks in the league when healthy. Jordy Nelson seemed like he might turn out to be a decent complementary player at best when he first got to Green Bay, but has since developed into a 1,200 yard receiver that scored 15 touchdowns last year.
Maybe Shea McClellin will turn out to have a stellar career, and will outshine Nick Perry. Because they play in the same division and so many fans were hoping McClellin would fall to the Packers, they will always be connected in some way. But when looking at the effect each player has had in camp thus far, the Packers look like they are in good position to come out ahead in this matchup. Only time will tell.
Photo Credit: Associated Press