GREEN BAY – The element Rashan Gary brings to the Packers' defense was in full effect during the final two minutes of Sunday's 24-20 win over Jacksonville.
Down four and at the Green Bay 36-yard line, the Jaguars saw any hope of an upset vanquished when the Packers' 22-year-old linebacker put right tackle Juwaan Taylor on his heels on his way to a sack of quarterback Jake Luton for a 6-yard loss on second-and-10.
After a Jacksonville timeout stopped the clock with 1:24 left on the clock, Gary came right back and again put Taylor on skates. In nearly getting home for a second straight play, Gary still collapsed the pocket enough for Preston Smith to sack Luton for another 10-yard loss.
On fourth-and-26? Yep. More Gary, this time powering through a weakside double team to pressure Luton into an incompletion and force the turnover on downs, securing Green Bay's seventh win of the 2020 campaign.
"He's been getting better in his role," defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. "(On Sunday), he was winning a lot of his rushes, and his bull rushes were great. He's a guy that's improving, that's going to keep on improving. I'm just excited about his development."
Gary, the 12th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, hinted at a breakout season with an impressive offseason, a strong all-around training camp and a 1½-sack performance against Detroit in Week 2 that had Za'Darius Smith saying they may need to change Gary's last name to add him to the Smith Bros.
Unfortunately for the Packers' pass rush, Gary sustained an ankle issue the following week in New Orleans. While Gary didn't miss any games, he was listed on Green Bay's injury report as a limited practice participant until last week.
His impact was felt Sunday. Pro Football Focus credited Gary with a career-high seven pressures on just 22 pass-rushing snaps against the Jaguars to cap perhaps his best game in a Packers uniform.
"Rashan's been working hard, man," Preston Smith said. "He worked his tail off this offseason and it's been showing. He's been doing a lot of great things for this defense and this team, and for this outside linebacker corps. He's just been executing his job, and put some good rushes on tape."
One staple, from the start, has been Gary's energy level and effort – even when he's not rushing the passer.
In the third quarter against the Jaguars, for example, the 6-foot-5, 277-pound linebacker chased down receiver Keelan Cole on a screen from the opposite side of the field to prevent a potential explosive play. The Jacksonville drive stalled after Gary's tackle and the Jaguars were forced to punt from the Green Bay 38.
The same goes for Gary's off-the-field approach, as well. He put in a rigorous offseason, a lot of which was documented on his social media accounts, to better prepare his body for what he's being asked to do in coordinator Mike Pettine's defense.
"I'm a guy that constantly talks to Rashan, just about his ability, just loving the style and way he plays," Clark said. "I root for him all the time. I think he's going to be a really good player.
"He's a guy that came in early and he had to make a big adjustment just like all of us and learn how to play in the NFL, no matter what it takes. I think this offseason he did a great job of just working hard, keeping his nose down."
It's resulted in Gary receiving a bump in playing time in Year 2. He's already played nearly as many defensive snaps through the first nine games (227) as he did during his 16 regular-season appearances as a rookie (244).
Still, Gary's workload hovers around 42% this season – serving as the understudy to the Smiths on first and second downs, and rotating in on passing third downs when all three are deployed (like the two-minute situation against Jacksonville).
As Gary's game continues to grow, there could be even more opportunities for the young pass rusher to get on the field as the season wears on.
"Obviously you want your best players on the field and, you know, we do have some depth at that position, which is a great thing," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Different circumstances kind of dictate it in terms of when you have guys that are playing the same position … but yeah, that's something that we're looking at."