GREEN BAY – In evaluating his rookie season on special teams, Jayrone Elliott believes it took him awhile to get going.
The fact that he still finished 2014 with the second-most coverage tackles on the team (15) bodes well for the second-year outside linebacker, and for the Packers.
"I didn't get a lot of special-teams reps last year (in training camp), and that's why I started slow," Elliott said. "I don't know when that button went off, but I know I had my two best games in the playoffs."
That he did, recording three tackles against the Cowboys and three more against the Seahawks, setting the stage for Elliott to become one of new coordinator Ron Zook's core players on Green Bay's revamped special teams in 2015.
The 6-3, 255-pounder has the body type Mike McCarthy covets on return and coverage units, and he's no longer a quiet, nervous and sometimes confused rookie just trying to survive each snap.
Nothing is guaranteed to Elliott as far as the roster goes this year, but he's naturally assuming a leadership role in camp, both on special teams and for all of this year's undrafted rookies who pick his brain to find out how he made the team last season.
View photos of Packers Training Camp taken on August 19, 2015. Photos by Ryan Hartwig and Matt Becker, Packers.com.
Elliott said he hopes Zook sees him as a special-teams leader, as he's no longer afraid to get vocal if the situation demands it.
"In the heat of a game, when things go wrong or you might not get a call, I can keep guys settled down and go out there and play hard," he said, describing the contrast between his second season and the early stages of his rookie one.
"I'm not thinking about the playbook. I'm not scrambling like, 'Yo, what do I have to do?' Nothing like that. It's a different road, but it's a better road than being star-struck and scared out there at the same time."
Last year, Elliott put together a five-sack preseason that earned him a roster spot, continuing a curious streak, now at five years, of an undrafted rookie outside linebacker making the team out of training camp. Elliott was preceded by Frank Zombo (2010), Vic So'oto (2011), Dezman Moses (2012) and Andy Mulumba (2013).
Equally curious, though, is that the first three didn't last in Green Bay much beyond their breakout rookie years. Mulumba stuck around last year but then landed on injured reserve with a knee injury. By all accounts, he has recovered well and is in position to make the team again in year three.
To develop some of that staying power and not quickly fade, Elliott hopes to get more playing time on defense. In the offseason, he studied film of Clay Matthews' younger days, particularly his quick first step and how that opened up a book of pass-rush moves.
"You can set up anything from your get-off and timing and everything," Elliott said. "He did a great job of studying quarterbacks and their cadence back then, and it's something I'm trying to do."
The effort was hit and miss in last week's preseason opener. After sharing a third-down sack of Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo with Mulumba early in the second quarter, Elliott jumped way offside during New England's two-minute drill to end the half.
"I thought it was a good jump, but watching it on film, it was terrible," said Elliott, practically laughing at himself.
The light-hearted self-critique is just another difference from a year ago for Elliott who, along with Mulumba, will have to start sharing more snaps at outside linebacker now with some position mates back in action.
Mike Neal, who missed the first preseason game, and Nick Perry, who returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday (as did defensive lineman Letroy Guion), could begin getting more work soon.
"I feel like I'm being steady, being the same guy every day," Elliott said. "It's not as stressful as last year. I had a lot of ups and downs. I was nervous every day, thinking I was going to get let go.
"But now … I'm not comfortable, but I know as long as I do my job and take advantage of the opportunities I get, I'll have a good chance of making the team."