GREEN BAY – They're two players of whom much is expected in 2020, and they've put themselves in position to deliver for the Packers.
Outside linebacker Rashan Gary and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling had less than satisfying seasons last year, for different reasons.
Gary was the No. 12 overall pick in the draft who came in as a raw prospect with a lot to learn. Playing behind edge rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, he averaged just 15 snaps per game on defense and recorded two sacks.
Valdes-Scantling was looking to build on a promising 2018 rookie season, and he began 2019 with 21 catches for 416 yards through seven games. But an injury led to a falloff in production and then minimal playing time late in the year.
Fast forward to this summer, and both players emerged as among the best performers on their side of the ball through the Packers' just-concluded training camp. Arguably, they might be the one player on each side of the ball most capable of changing the outlook for their respective units, and they've set themselves up as players to watch when the ball is kicked off in Minnesota on Sept. 13.
"This offseason I went into the lab, watched a lot of film from last year, and to be honest didn't like the player that I was and what I was giving the Green Bay Packers," Gary said in a media session following Friday's practice.
"I could see more. I know what I can bring to the table. I know the player that I am and can be."
To his credit, Gary recorded 19 QB pressures in just 244 defensive snaps last season, a productive ratio. Now it's a matter of what he might do with an increased workload, and outside linebackers coach Mike Smith has been bullish about those possibilities all summer.
Smith sees the game slowing down for Gary, who is still young, just 22 years old. He believes Gary has improved considerably at reading the offensive lineman assigned to block him, and understanding what moves are available to him based on how his opponent is attacking or reacting.
"He's opening it up and he's just trusting who he is," Smith said.
So how many sacks and pressures will that translate into?
"I don't know," Gary said. "I'm just going to let y'all know that I'm going to have fun, and I'm going to be in the backfield."
Valdes-Scantling's plans are to be more than just the big-play threat who posted nine receptions of 40-plus yards through his first 1½ NFL seasons. His speed remains a huge asset, but during training camp he made a lot of plays on shorter, possession routes such as outs and crossers.
As his game has rounded out, he's received praise from both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur for consistency and reliability. Rodgers has been impressed with his practice habits, while LaFleur commented on his "strong, aggressive, confident hands" as well as an improved ability to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
While Valdes-Scantling has insisted he suffered no crisis of confidence when he became a non-factor on offense the second half of last season, it was evident that his success in camp generated momentum that built upon itself. His progress is paramount following an offseason in which the Packers drafted no new receivers and saw their main free-agent signing at the position, Devin Funchess, opt out due to pandemic-related concerns.
"I was just getting back in the rhythm, getting back in the feeling of playing 11-on-11 football," Valdes-Scantling said. "You work on everything in the offseason. That's what my focus was, being an all-around receiver."
He also took the time, with the help of his dad, to shop for a sports car for his mom's birthday. He surprised his mom with the car of her dreams this week and posted her reaction on social media, a heartwarming video that serves as a personal capper to his professional resurgence this past month.
"I can watch that video a hundred times and I'll smile every time," Valdes-Scantling said. "She has never asked me for anything since I got into the NFL, or ever … never asked me for a dollar or anything."
The Packers will be asking plenty out of MVS this season, and Gary, too. Both have laid the foundation to answer the call.