GREEN BAY – By several statistical measures, 2021 qualified as a breakout year for Rashan Gary.
The 2019 first-round draft pick posted more sacks (9½) than in his first two seasons combined (8), more quarterback hits (28) than those first two years (18), and just as many tackles for loss (8).
Then he capped it off with a dominant two-sack, three-TFL performance in the NFC Divisional playoff vs. San Francisco.
Don't confuse Gary's rise to prominence with any level of personal satisfaction, though. Sure, he takes pride in the player he's become, and he's ready to embrace any leadership role that comes his way as a fourth-year pro and key cog within defensive coordinator Joe Barry's unit.
But he's not about to rest on anything he's accomplished or proven to anybody at this point. His work-a-holic mentality simply won't allow it.
"If anything, it made me hungry," Gary said during the team's recent minicamp, reflecting on his breakout year. "It made me go back, watch film, see what I put on tape, see areas of my pass rush, my run defense and things that I could improve on.
"It just made me hungrier (to) pick apart my game and make me a better player for this team."
When he arrived as the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, Gary took a back seat at outside linebacker to veteran free agents Za'Darius and Preston Smith. He learned and soaked up everything he could for two seasons, rotating in and steadily increasing his contributions.
Last year at this time, Gary's development prompted discussions about how much he and the Smiths would be on the field together, but Za'Darius' season-long back injury prevented that from coming to fruition.
Now with Za'Darius in Minnesota, it's unequivocally the Preston and Rashan show off the edges, with the depth behind them needing to sort itself out in training camp.
The other big change is with the position coach, as Mike Smith has been replaced by Jason Rebrovich. Gary was especially close to Smith, who was a huge supporter of his publicly and privately, touting at every opportunity the player he saw Gary growing into.
Gary noted the transition to Rebrovich has gone smoothly, saying "the energy is high with Coach Rebs," and Gary has been open to different ways to refine his techniques if not take on new ones at Rebrovich's suggestion.
Evaluating himself from last season, Gary felt he made strides with his play recognition, seeing and reacting to certain blocks better and faster. Where he wants to continue to improve is with finishing his chances to make a play, an indication he believes his totals of 9½ sacks and eight TFLs last season could've been higher.
"Anytime I have a one-on-one, I want to win," he said. "That's my main thing. When it's time to win, I want to be the guy that wins."
How regularly he'll be blocked one-on-one is an interesting question. Gary won't be sneaking up on anybody this year and is sure to draw plenty of attention as opponents game plan against Green Bay.
But with Preston Smith coming off the other edge, Kenny Clark on the interior, De'Vondre Campbell in the middle of it all, and the Packers adding Georgia's Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt in the first round of the draft, Green Bay's defense has high-impact players in the front seven in good supply.
Much like how Gary feels about his own career, though, while there's a lot to like, the work still must get done to achieve more.
"We're not even at regular training camp (and) our defense is flying around," Gary said of the spring workouts. "We're going to be scary. We could be as good as we want to be. We just have to push each other day-in and day-out."