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Rashan Gary embraces his place in Packers' locker room

Rookie linebacker not shying away from expectations

LB Rashan Gary
LB Rashan Gary

GREEN BAY – Rashan Gary was speechless the first time he laid eyes on his Packers jersey.

To the point he nearly missed his ride to his first rookie minicamp practice inside the Hutson Center Friday afternoon.

"I just stared at it for probably like five minutes," said Gary, the first of Green Bay's two first-round picks in this year's draft. "Then, I realized I had to catch the bus, so I had to hurry up and put it on."

Gary, the 12th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, comes to the Packers with high expectations as the team's highest draft pick in a decade. He's not shying away from them.

Exhibit A is the fact the 6-foot-5, 277-pound linebacker chose to wear No. 52, the number six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews donned for a decade in Green Bay.

Yes, Gary was aware who the number previously belonged to and the responsibility that comes with requesting it. Still, Gary felt he "had to take it" when he saw it was open for two reasons.

On top of being a student of Matthews' game in the past, Gary said the decision came down to simple arithmetic – "five minus two equals three," the number Gary wore during his three seasons at the University of Michigan.

"Wearing the gold and green, there's just something about it," Gary said. "Coming to an organization like this, you understand the players that play here before you and the standard that you need to uphold. Every time I wear that 52, it means a lot to me. And I'm going to make sure I carry it with respect."

Gary wore a harness over his right shoulder in his first practice with the Packers. While he maintains he won't need surgery on the shoulder, Gary said the training staff suggested he wear it for precautionary reasons. He's comfortable with it after wearing it last year at Michigan.

The rest of Gary's first day in a Packers uniform was spent getting to know his new position coach, Mike Smith, and gaining familiarity with his new surroundings.

Gary said he feels comfortable doing whatever is asked of him in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme. If that means dropping into coverage, he's open to it. If it's rushing, he's champing at the bit to pin his ears back and get after the QB.

Gary is one of several new additions to the Packers' outside linebacker room. General Manager Brian Gutekunst acquired two emerging pass rushers in inking Za'Darius and Preston Smith to contracts on the opening day of free agency.

Fittingly, Gary's locker is sandwiched between the two veterans and located just a few spots down from Kyler Fackrell, who led Green Bay with 10½ sacks in 2018.

"That's a lot of knowledge that came with it to soak in," Gary said. "It's a blessing to be here, and just having two veterans like that that's been in the game and been in big-time situations and know what I need to do and take my game to the next level, those two guys are the best to look up to and find ways and pull everything that they're giving me out of them."

This past week has been emotional for Gary and his family. A native of Plainfield, N.J., Gary battled dyslexia as a child. Diagnosed in seventh grade, Gary went on to become a two-time academic All-Big Ten honoree during his time in Ann Arbor.

Gary enrolled as a junior entrant in the NFL Draft after recording 137 tackles and 10½ sacks at Michigan. He hopes to build his own sports agency, a goal meant to ensure his family's long-term financial security.

The first contract is already taken care of. Gary and fellow first-round pick Darnell Savage were among the six rookie draft picks who signed with the Packers on Friday.

Gary is ready to get to work. He knows he'll face criticism at times as a top pick, but doesn't concern himself with it. Like any other rookie in the Packers' eight-player draft class, Gary's sole focus is to get better each day.

"At the end of the day, we're all in the same locker room together, we've all got the same goals, and that's to win the Super Bowl," Gary said. "So the whole class that got drafted, free agents, things like that, we're all on the same page and we're all pushing each other to be great."

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