Rashan Gary 'back at it' and eager for rookie season to start

Jace Sternberger looking forward to his preseason debut Thursday

LB Rashan Gary
LB Rashan Gary

GREEN BAY – The awkward hit and missed practice turned out to be nothing, apparently.

The Packers' first-round draft pick, Rashan Gary, was back on the practice field Monday and fired up about it. He didn't get into any specifics as to what exactly happened when his head bent back on the tail end of a tackle against the Raiders in Winnipeg, but he's no worse for wear now.

"Just being precautionary," Gary said as to why he was sidelined until Monday. "You see I'm out there today flying around, having fun. I'm back at it."

Gary actually left the preseason game in Winnipeg twice, in each of the first two quarters. He called the first one "a little shoe issue." He referred to both as "no injury" and said he wanted to go back in the game but wasn't allowed.

Gary has played 91 snaps through the first three preseason games, a fairly hefty load, but it was with a purpose. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said a week ago he wanted to get him extensive work as he makes the transition from a hand-in-the-ground defensive lineman to stand-up outside linebacker, and the additional responsibilities that come with a new position.

From a two-point stance, Gary said it's "a different world" but he likes the vision he has of the field, being able to see where blocks are coming from and read the offense better.

In that vein, Pettine noted he's not concerned with Gary's lack of statistical production in the preseason (he got his first official tackle in Winnipeg) because the focus has been on learning. The plan has been to hone in on what Gary can do best right away and then put him in that role to make the most of his rookie season.

That could mean a return to his Michigan roots as an interior rusher in certain packages, duty fellow outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith likely will be called upon to execute as well. Gary's comfort level with his anticipated role is high.

"Absolutely," he said. "Everything they've been talking to me and been helping me go through, I'm making sure I'm taking notes and studying outside the building. I'm just excited, I know what I need to do, and I can't wait to do it.

"It's getting to the time where you start cutting your moves down, understanding what works for you, what type of player you are."

Another rookie draft pick, third-round tight end Jace Sternberger, is eager to finally make that first impression in a preseason game.

After taking a wicked hit in the first joint practice with Houston back on Aug. 5, Sternberger entered the concussion protocol and returned to full duty on the practice field this week. Veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, along with second-year pro Robert Tonyan, are at the top of the depth chart at tight end and Sternberger has tried to soak up as much as he can from them heading into his first game.

"Unfortunately I've had to watch the past three games, so (with) that built-up adrenaline, I'm excited because we all work hard," he said. "Getting to watch Rob and everybody do their thing, it's just making me more excited to get my opportunity and go out there. I'm looking forward to it."

A former junior college player who starred for one season at Texas A&M last year, Sternberger has both a big step to take in the NFL and valuable position mates to emulate. Getting on the game field is where the two elements need to merge.

"I want to show them I'm capable of playing in this league," he said. "That I can retain information. You hope not to make mistakes, but I can learn from them the next day and not make them twice. Just try to show some maturity in my game. I try to nitpick everything Marcedes, Jimmy and even Bobby are doing right now."

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