Perry Familiar With Surroundings

To say secondary - safeties coach Darren Perry’s football career has come full circle might be overstating things a bit, but it’s no accident that the 23-year-old rookie playing safety for Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers back in 1992 is now a coach for that position under Capers in Green Bay.

(Continuing the profiles of some of the new members of the team's coaching staff, today's feature is on secondary - safeties coach Darren Perry.)

To say Darren Perry's football career has come full circle might be overstating things a bit, but it's no accident that the 23-year-old rookie playing safety for Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers back in 1992 is now a coach for that position under Capers in Green Bay.

With the Packers needing to learn Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme as quickly and efficiently as possible in 2009, and with the safety known as the "quarterback" of this defense required to communicate all the calls to his teammates, it makes sense that the man charged with teaching the safeties their responsibilities is Perry. He's not only an experienced coach but one who played that spot in this very scheme for this very coordinator.

That's what Perry brings to the table for the Packers and Capers. He played the first seven years of a nine-year career with Pittsburgh, the first three of those with Capers running the defense. And he has coached defensive backs in the NFL the past seven years, four of them with the Steelers and their 3-4 scheme.

"Our safeties have to be great communicators," Perry said in a sit-down with local media on Tuesday. "The biggest thing is terminology, us being on same page, how we call things, how we see things, and those guys being confident we're getting things communicated across the board to everybody."

Perry shared a story about how he learned his lesson in communication - and the importance Capers places on it - during his rookie year of 1992.

With veteran free safety Thomas Everett holding out that season, first-year head coach Bill Cowher inserted Perry, an eighth-round draft choice out of Penn State, into the starting lineup. In meetings in the film room, Capers wasted no time conveying that the rookie starter would be cut no slack in terms of responsibility.

"As free safety of the defense, you were the quarterback back there, and I was the guy who kind of had to get the communication started," Perry recalled. "So whenever the video got going, there was a certain role the free safety had, and first and foremost that was calling out down-and-distance and personnel, and then making the coverage call.

"I was kind of aloof one time, and the video was just paused, not moving. Nobody knew why it was at a standstill, and it was because I hadn't said anything. Dom was like, 'I'm still waiting, I'm still waiting.' The veteran guys, they said, 'Hey rook, you've got the call,' so I pretty much had to stay awake the whole entire time. There was no sleeping for me in the meetings."

There won't be any for Perry's safeties in Green Bay, either, not that he expects it to be an issue. The Packers' top three safeties - Pro Bowler Nick Collins, Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse - are all still young, with less than 10 years of combined experience, so there's plenty for them to pay attention to but also plenty of time to continue growing and developing.

During his time as a coach with the Steelers (2003-06), Perry had a hand in the development of All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who has become the prototype for the dangerous, ball-hawking safety in the 3-4.

Perry said a key attribute he noticed right away about Polamalu when evaluating him for the 2003 NFL Draft (he was taken in the first round) was his sharpness in the classroom, giving the coaching staff confidence he could run the defense and handle the communication.

That's what Perry showed early on as a player as well, and in 1995, his fourth season (the year after Capers left to become head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers), he was the starting safety in Super Bowl XXX.

He and all the Steelers defenders were old pros at the "new" 3-4 scheme by then, and even though he was overshadowed statistically by fellow Pittsburgh safety Rod Woodson on that Super Bowl team, Perry was an on-field leader for the entire unit. Capers is confident Perry can teach that kind of leadership to the Packers, who are newcomers to this scheme.

{sportsad300}"He was the call man, he made the calls," Capers said. "He understands the techniques, he understands the coverages."

If any of the Packers' safeties struggle to grasp that understanding, Perry can always take a page from Capers' book and pause the film at the appropriate time. But whether he employs his boss's old tricks or some of his own, Perry has plenty of his own coaching experience to stand on.

After one year coaching in Cincinnati for Dick LeBeau and four in Pittsburgh for Cowher, Perry spent the last two years as defensive backs coach in Oakland, where he thought a foray into a 4-3 scheme from the 3-4 would expand his horizons and speed up his path to potentially becoming a coordinator someday.

With all the turmoil in Oakland surrounding former head coach Lane Kiffin, it didn't work out that way for Perry. But he felt learning a different defense was still good experience, and the 4-3 knowledge should only help him in working with Green Bay players transitioning from that scheme.

Plus, he's genuinely fired up to be back with Capers once again.

"I know the type of person that Dom is, I know what type of coach, how detailed he is, what he's going to demand of the players," Perry said. "I know the system very well, I'm very familiar with it. Dom's background, his pedigree speaks for itself, and being able to grow as a young coach is only going to help me down the line. I'm excited about that."

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