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Nick Perry on track for prominent role in Packers' defense

Fifth-year pass rusher hopes run of injuries is finally behind him


GREEN BAY – After Nick Perry finished last season's two playoff games with 3½ sacks, playing probably the best football of his four-year career, only one thought was on his mind.

"All I could think about was getting to the next season," Perry said. "When do we play next?"

Perry's eagerness for 2016 was understandable, even if at the time he didn't know what his future held as a pending free agent.

Given all of his injury frustrations – knee, wrist, foot, ankle, shoulder – since joining the Packers as a first-round draft pick in 2012, Perry was simply fired up to be heading into an offseason on a good note, and fully healthy.

He re-signed with Green Bay for one year right after unrestricted free agency began in March, and judging by the early days of training camp, it appears the Packers have big plans for the outside linebacker this season.

In conjunction with limiting 15-year veteran Julius Peppers' workload, Perry has been taking the bulk of the snaps with the No. 1 defense as the bookend pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews.

Prior to Thursday's practice, the third of camp and the first in pads, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he views Perry as a "prominent player" in the Packers' defense this season. Healthy enough to participate fully in an offseason program for the first time in his career, Perry "looks like a whole different player" heading into his fifth year.

Teammates have noticed, too. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, a first-round pick two years prior to Perry who has gone head-to-head with him countless times in practice, sees a renewed, more seasoned Perry as well.

"I can just tell by his speed," Bulaga said. "He's always been very good with his hands, but I feel like he's really polished that up even more. He's obviously a strong guy, so he's got great power, too. I think he's going to have a good year.

"Obviously, we all have to stay healthy, myself included, but with Nick, you can definitely tell that he's improved big-time."

That's an eyebrow-raising thought, considering Perry's productivity when he has been on the field. Including playoffs, he has recorded 18½ sacks in just 51 career games.

Having gutted out a significant percentage of those contests at far less than 100 percent – which has earned the soft-spoken Detroit native and USC alum plenty of respect in the locker room – the possibilities for a healthy Perry are intriguing.

"It's good to know that I'm available, first thing, that I can go out there and perform," he said. "That's really big.

"The injuries are gone now. We've flipped the page on that, and right now, the main focus is what's ahead. There's no worries."

Perry's 3½ sacks last January pushed his career postseason total to six, already third in team playoff history behind Matthews and Reggie White. The strong finish propelled him into the offseason determined to fine-tune his game and push himself for more.

The one-year contract provides loads of incentive for a player at a premier pass-rushing position who believes he's "still got a lot more time here in the league."

If he's able to fill that larger role McCarthy has in mind, perhaps saving the wear-and-tear on Peppers and keeping the future Hall of Famer fresher for specific game situations and packages, all the better for the Packers' defense.

"It's good to be out there," Perry said. "That's the main thing for me. All the other stuff will unfold as we progress."

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