Skip to main content

Packers' linebackers ready to step up in Rashan Gary's absence

Despite knee injury, Gary made it known he’ll be there for young linebackers

LBs Rashan Gary & Kingsley Enagbare
LBs Rashan Gary & Kingsley Enagbare

GREEN BAY – Kingsley Enagbare was at a total loss for words.

During Sunday's 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions, Rashan Gary suffered a season-ending knee injury on first defensive play of the second half at Ford Field.

Gary was off to a torrid start, leading the Packers' defense with 12 quarterback hits and six sacks. He'd also taken Enagbare, a rookie fifth-round pick, under his wing for the past six months, from organized team activities to the Week 9 prep for the Lions.

The reality Gary's season could be over left Enagbare speechless in the postgame locker room. But before Enagbare could even approach Gary to offer his condolences, the Packers' leading pass rusher had already found the rookie.

"Right after the game, the first thing he said to me when we saw each other was pretty much he's going to be here for me," Enagbare said. "I'm like, 'Dang, it's supposed to be reversed.' That just goes to show what kind of man and what kind of teammate he is; him looking out for us."

Gary's positive response to adversity has provided an illuminating look into the 24-year-old man behind the football player, who's missed just two games due to injury in three years.

On Wednesday, an emotional Gary was back with the outside linebackers and position coach Jason Rebrovich, but he wasn't sulking. While officially on injured reserve, Gary still wanted to know what he can do to help.

"The guy loves football. He loves being around here," Rebrovich said. "That's going to be our biggest thing is keeping him involved with us on a daily basis. Because we need him as much as he needs us. But yeah, it's an unbelievable loss."

There hasn't been any "Win one for the Gipper" speech among the outside linebackers this week, but the room knows it's up to them to fill the burgeoning playmaker's void.

The Packers have a good starting point with durable eighth-year veteran Preston Smith, whose nine QB hits and 3½ sacks are second on Green Bay's defense behind Gary.

While the Packers went into the season with Smith and Gary as their starting edge-rushing tandem, they drafted Enagbare in the fifth round (No. 179 overall) last April with the future in mind.

The 6-foot-4, 258-pound linebacker has seen his opportunities grow over the past month, in particular, after recording his first NFL sack against the New York Jets in Week 6.

The following week in Washington, Enagbare recorded his second sack of the season and nearly had another against the Lions after stepping in for an injured Gary. His third-quarter sack, good for minus-11 yards, was wiped out because officials ruled Enagbare's hand made contact with the top of Detroit QB Jared Goff's helmet.

Still, Enagbare has come a long way in short period of time. Rebrovich credits the rookie for his length and slithery play style that allows him to knife past offensive tackles. There's a tangible difference in Enagbare's confidence, as well.

"As the season went on, it started with holding my own to 'Can I make plays against those guys?'" said Enagbare of his mindset. "It went from that to how consistently can I do it? Now, it's can I start dominating guys? With me, I would say ever since that Tampa game, I felt like I had a couple good rushes then. That kind of sparked the change like, 'All right, I can beat some of these guys.'"

Besides Smith, the entire OLB room skews young. Enagbare, third-year veteran Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai and practice-squad linebacker La'Darius Hamilton combine for 60 regular-season appearances and one start.

Garvin, a seventh-round pick in 2020, accounts for that lone start (last year against Minnesota in place of Gary). He also has the most experience of those four, with 27 tackles, seven quarterback hits and 1½ sacks over 31 games.

"I've been in this situation before, last year too, so no pressure, just be ready," Garvin said. "And we'll all be ready. We'll all be on top of our game, collectively, and we'll come together and try to fill whatever void is there."

The challenge for Rebrovich is getting his young room prepared for Sundays without Gary. It starts on the practice field, where the young outside linebackers saw a significant spike in first-team reps with Gary on IR and Smith limited with a neck issue.

This Sunday, the Packers host a 6-2 Dallas Cowboys team that features a Pro Bowl quarterback (Dak Prescott), a game-breaking receiver (CeeDee Lamb) and two workhorse running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

Pressure and edge-setting will be key. As difficult as it will be to replace a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker like Gary, Enagbare and the rest of the OLB room are eager to do their part.

"We lost one of our soldiers on the team, one of our leaders of the team; really one of our best players on the team," Enagbare said. "We understand a lot of guys in our room, including me, are gonna have to step up this coming week and the weeks to come after that."

Related Content