GREEN BAY – Reggie Gilbert knew going into Thursday night’s preseason opener that he was playing the entire first half.
As the Packers’ young linebacker has the last two summers in Green Bay, Gilbert made the most of his 35 defensive snaps in a 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field.
While only credited with two tackles and a quarterback hit, Gilbert had production that went beyond what’s visible in the official stat book. Building on his late momentum from last season, Gilbert was a nuisance to the Titans’ tackles and backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
In the second quarter, Gilbert helped change the complexion of Thursday’s opener beginning with his quarterback hit on third down to force a Titans field goal.
On the next series, Gilbert coaxed Tennessee left tackle Tyler Marz into a 10-yard holding penalty before pressuring Gabbert into an incompletion on second-and-16.
After the game, Gilbert told reporters he felt “disruptive out there.” While there are areas he still wants to improve this preseason, the 6-foot-3, 261-pound linebacker is making a case for an established role in Green Bay’s edge-rushing rotation.
“I felt I had an OK night,” Gilbert said. “I felt like there were some things I could have done better and things I will get better at moving forward. But it definitely was good going out there and competing against somebody else.”
A former defensive lineman at Arizona, Gilbert spent most of the past two seasons on Green Bay’s practice squad. He hoped to make the Packers’ 53-man roster last summer after having two sacks in the preseason, but he was among the team’s final cuts.
Gilbert admittedly was blindsided when Green Bay waived him. Devastated, he and his agents considered signing onto another NFL practice squad before deciding it was in his best interest to stay with the Packers.
With the Packers banged up at outside linebacker, Gilbert finally was activated to the main roster on Dec. 20, and he didn’t disappoint with five pressures, three quarterback hits and a sack in the final two games of the season.
One might think a two-year wait would have been a driving force for Gilbert once he was promoted, but it wasn’t like that. Gilbert wasn’t out for redemption or to prove doubters wrong.
He finally had his opportunity. He just wanted to capitalize on it.
“I really don’t use that as too much motivation,” Gilbert said. “That’s just the player I am and the kind of person I am. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to try to be the best at it as I can possibly be. I’m always going to keep bringing my lunch pail to work and grinding and working hard.”
The Packers have a long history of former undrafted free agents finding success as pass rushers. Frank Zombo started eight games and had four sacks for Green Bay during its Super Bowl XLV run in 2010.
For the past two years, Gilbert has had the chance to learn from Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and even another former undrafted free agent in Jayrone Elliott, who was a mentor of sorts during his first two NFL offseasons.
Discipline and effort appear to have Gilbert on the cusp of finally earning the spot on the 53-man roster he’s coveted, but he knows what must be done to finally make that dream a reality.
“Every time I take the field, I’m going to go 110 percent,” Gilbert said. “I’m trying to be the best player I can be so I’ll be able to help my team. Three years ago, when I got here, nothing has changed. I’m still going to put my best foot forward and keep working.”
First impression: With Tramon Williams, Kevin King and Jaire Alexander all scratches on Thursday, rookie cornerback Josh Jackson had the chance to start outside in his first pro game.
A second-round pick out of Iowa, Jackson actually played more snaps (34) than any other cornerback on the Packers’ defense. Aside from a questionable holding call early on, the 6-foot, 196-pound cornerback turned in a clean performance rotating inside and outside against the Titans.
“I like that, throw me in the fire. That’s fine,” Jackson said. “I expected to go out there and play with the first team.
“It’s my job to go out there and lock down receivers and play confident, so that’s what I wanted to do. And just, first game, go back and look at the film and see what I can correct and come back next week ready to go.”
Alexander, who sat with a groin injury, wasn’t surprised to see Jackson fit in. It’s what he’s come to expect since the two first arrived in Green Bay together following the 2018 NFL Draft.
“I was excited for that guy,” Alexander said. “He went out there and played hard. He played pretty well, too. He made a couple good tackles and was on a good run. I was excited for him.”