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Six in six: Rashan Gary hungry for more after fast start

Packers linebacker’s breakout season started vs. Washington last year

LB Rashan Gary
LB Rashan Gary

GREEN BAY – The encore is turning out to be even better than the breakthrough for Rashan Gary.

Through six games, the Packers' fourth-year linebacker is tied for second in the NFL with six sacks, putting Gary just a half sack behind Pittsburgh's Alex Highsmith for the league lead.

Dating back to last season, Gary has registered 11 sacks in his last 10 games (including playoffs). That includes a run of five straight games with at least one sack at Lambeau Field, which is now tied for the longest official streak in the stadium history.

It's not just the numbers, though. It's the impact. The opposition has yet to score on any drive Gary has registered a sack this season, with four of his sacks contributing to three-and-outs.

In Week 4, Gary had a strip sack and fumble recovery of New England's Bailey Zappe. It represents one of the Packers' four takeaways this season.

Still, his sack of New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson on Sunday may have been his most impressive to date, as Gary recovered after sliding to the ground to beat both tight end Tyler Conklin and left tackle Duane Brown en route to Wilson.

It's not the first time Gary has faced a double-team this season and certainly won't be his last.

"He is going to garner some attention. There's no doubt about it," said outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich last Thursday. "The level he's playing at right now is very high, which is very good. We're excited about it and we're going to continue to grow from it."

Gary came to Green Bay with high expectations as a former five-star Michigan recruit and 12th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. After apprenticing behind Preston and Za'Darius Smith for two seasons, Gary broke out with 47 tackles and a team-leading 9½ sacks last year.

As impressive as his Year 3 was, Gary only had 1½ sacks through Green Bay's first six games in 2021. Something appeared to click for Gary last October vs. Washington, when he registered seven tackles, four quarterback hits and two sacks of Taylor Heinicke in a 24-10 Packers victory.

Gary finished the year on a tear following that Week 7 encounter, registering 30 tackles, 20 quarterback hits and 10 sacks over his next 10 games (including playoffs).

Now, almost one year to the exact day, Green Bay heads to Washington for a rematch with Heinicke and the Commanders. Only this time, Gary isn't just an up-and-coming playmaker – he's developing into the standard for the entire defense.

"Just watching him play and go about his work Monday through Sunday, he's about his business," said rookie linebacker Kingsley Enagbare. "Each day he's trying to get better, so it's definitely a great learning experience for me to be in the same room as him."

As expected, offenses have started to adapt their game plans to the budding pass rusher, but the Packers have developed their own counters, whether it's lining up Gary inside or having Gary overload the edge alongside Preston Smith.

It appears to be working. Gary's six sacks are tied for the ninth-most by a Packers player through the first six games, dating back to 1982 when sacks became an official statistic.

Still, Gary wasn't basking in his own glory following Sunday's 27-10 loss to the Jets. The 24-year-old pass rusher uttered the word "hungry" 11 times during his two-minute, 42-second media session to describe his mindset after back-to-back losses.

"I don't know about anyone else, but I can speak for myself and the defense – hungry, hungry," Gary said. "We understand our standard. We understand what we have to do for this organization and ourselves to get where we need to be. We're just hungry, man. That's it."

The Packers' defense is off to an interesting start. It ranks fifth in total yards (299.2 yards per game) and sixth in sacks per pass attempt (9.3%) but is tied for 28th with four takeaways.

Gary remains confident the takeaways will come. As the Packers look to rebound from back-to-back losses, Gary wants to lead the defensive charge against Washington.

"No concern at all. We are hungry," Gary said. "We have another opportunity. Stay tuned next Sunday. You'll see what we got on tape."

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