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Rashan Gary remains on the rise for Packers

Stellar playoff outing capped strong third season for edge rusher

LB Rashan Gary
LB Rashan Gary

GREEN BAY – Two days after helping spearhead a dominant defensive outing in the Packers' frustrating playoff loss to the 49ers, outside linebacker Rashan Gary wasn't interested in making it about himself.

"I just try to do my one-eleventh," Gary said last Monday. "Nothing more, nothing less."

Truth be told, though, Gary did a lot more than that in holding San Francisco to just two field goals on offense. He started by recording two sacks on third downs in the first half that were part of four consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game.

Then midway through the fourth quarter, he darted between two 49ers tight ends to stuff a fourth-and-1 run from the Green Bay 19-yard line with the Packers protecting a 10-3 lead at the time.

The final line in his first career postseason start: four tackles (all solo), two sacks (for minus-10 yards), three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits.

Despite the defeat, Gary turned in a rise-to-the-occasion performance that capped an impressive third year in which he recorded a team-leading 9½ sacks and ranked seventh in the league with 28 QB hits over 16 regular-season games played.

Having handled limited but steadily increasing snaps his first two years behind Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, Gary – who arrived in Green Bay as a first-round draft pick (No. 12 overall) in 2019 – was in line for a larger role last season even before a back injury sidelined Za'Darius Smith for all but the opener and playoff game.

A relentless worker with boundless energy, Gary seized the starting job with gusto and paired with Preston Smith to make an impact off the edge all season long. According to Pro Football Focus, Gary finished second in the league amongst edge rushers with 81 total pressures, while Smith tied for ninth with 62. The Raiders' Maxx Crosby had 100 to lead the league.

The constant growth in Gary's game has been evident and position coach Mike Smith, who's also been a huge fan of his since studying Gary as a draft prospect, promised he's not done.

"It's just crazy how fast time goes by," Smith said toward the end of the 2021 regular season. "It's been three years since I've had him, watching him grow and develop into what he is today, and he's still got a lot of growing.

"I mean, he hasn't even scratched the surface of how good this kid's gonna be."

Gary and Smith are close enough that he'll text his coach with questions or requests for film clips at all hours, and Smith is always ready to feed his pupil's insatiable hunger to learn and improve. Gary appreciates Smith's belief in him and how much he pushes him, getting a little choked up in his final media session after the playoff game talking about their relationship.

What's next for Gary is hard to gauge, because he's still only 24 years old. He mentioned honing his fundamentals (get-off, footwork, hand placement) with his pass-rush moves, and always scrutinizing himself closely when studying film in the offseason.

As he enters his fourth season in 2022, and with the Packers' cast of characters changing perhaps more than in prior years, Gary likely will take on more leadership responsibility with the defense. He'd welcome it, while emphasizing he won't act any differently.

"I'm being who I am. If that's what's asked of me, then that's what I'll do," he said. "Nothing's going to change about how I carry myself, how I work and how I conduct myself when it comes to football and what I love. I'm still going to be the same guy. I feel like I've always been a guy that leads by example, never really talks too much."

With a long offseason ahead, the defensive performance in the playoffs will be viewed as a building block for both Gary individually and coordinator Joe Barry's unit as a whole.

Gary's confidence, in both, remains sky high.

"Everybody knows the standard," he said. "Nothing's going to change from this year to next year. The only thing that's going to change is … needing to finish where we need to finish. Everybody has that goal.

"Everybody, look at your tape. Be critical. What are you going to do that's going to push this team over the edge? That's the challenge that everybody's taking."

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