GREEN BAY – It's only June, but there's already genuine excitement over what's in store for Packers outside linebacker Rashan Gary in his third NFL season.
Position mate Za'Darius Smith sees "a big year" on the horizon, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur referred to Gary becoming "a big-time player" in 2021.
As the Packers' three-day mandatory minicamp wrapped up Thursday, the defense enjoyed a strong finish, and the swagger in Gary's step to help keep his unit juiced and motivated was noticeable.
The comments from others weren't just about how Gary has looked this offseason, though. While the 2019 first-round draft pick has done his thing – continuing to work incessantly on his own with no plans to take much of a break prior to training camp – he also has plenty to build on from the end of 2020.
Gary recorded 2½ of his five regular-season sacks in the month of December, and then added another 1½ sacks in the playoff win over the Rams. The four sacks over a six-game span represent the best stretch of his young career to date … "to date" being the operative phrase.
"I'm not done," Gary said following Thursday's practice. "While I did make a lot of jumps, I'm still hungry and there's still room to improve.
"(I'm) just keeping everything full throttle from last year, not trying to slow down – not one bit. I've still got a lot of chipping away to do before the season comes. I'm happy to get back in my lab, get back in the cave and work."
It's as though he only leaves that lab, or cave, when he takes the field for practice, and he never gets tired. If LaFleur has referenced Gary's energy and effort once he's done so a hundred times.
While it remains to be seen just how new defensive coordinator Joe Barry deploys his top three edge rushers in Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Gary, it's a safe bet Gary will be on the field plenty. His defensive snap count in 2020 (456, 44%) was a huge increase over his rookie year (244, 24%) and it almost certainly will rise a bunch again.
"You talk about a guy that puts everything into whatever it is he's doing … and you see it paying off for him," LaFleur said. "He's going to be a big-time player for us, and I think he's going to be a big-time player in this league for a really long time."
Position coach Mike Smith has believed that about Gary from the day the Packers drafted him, and he's seen nothing through two years-plus to change his mind.
LaFleur and Gary both complimented Smith for his developmental work and attention to detail, and among the many things Gary appreciates about Smith is "his hunger for our success" with the outside linebackers.
With Preston Smith absent from minicamp, Gary got more than his share of first-team reps during 11-on-11 periods this past week, all the better for a young player to learn some ins and outs of Barry's scheme.
That transition appears to be going fairly smoothly and hasn't interrupted Gary's trajectory at all.
"He learns quick, and whatever he learns in the meeting room he takes to the field," Za'Darius Smith said of Gary. "He's progressing every year, and he's doing to be dominant for us this year, man, and I can't wait."
Neither can Gary, to return to work after minicamp.
"When I'm done here, I'm getting right back in the lab," he said. "I leave tomorrow and I'm back in the gym on Monday. I don't know off time right now. That's not on my schedule."