GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the courtroom, a closing act of a trial is the resting of the defense. Green Bay Packers standout Rashan Gary’s pursuit of excellence on defense never rests.
As you read this, Gary is probably working out. Or maybe he’s working on pass-rush drills. Or watching film.
To say the relentless fourth-year outside linebacker never rests would be an overstatement. Everyone has to chill out at some point in their day. Gary just chills less than most. While many of the players in the locker room during the final week of organized team activities said they’d take a week or so to catch their breath before diving back into preparation for training camp and the grueling regular season that’s to come, Gary didn’t have a week to waste.
“Oh, no, I’m back to work. Whenever I leave here, Thursday, I’ll be back to work on Monday,” Gary said. “So, just pushing myself to become the better player I need and know I can be and be a good player for this team and be the player that can get us over the hump, go to the Super Bowl.”
Whatever Gary’s doing, it’s working. The 12th pick of the 2019 draft, Gary went from two sacks and three quarterback hits as a rookie to five sacks and 11 quarterback hits in 2020 to 9.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits in 2021. According to the official league stats, Gary finished seventh in the NFL in quarterback hits last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Gary finished third in the NFL (and second among edge rushers) with 86 total pressures.
“Not yet,” he said.
Becoming a star – or at least viewed as one by media and fans or winning the Pro Bowl popularity vote – will require turning more of those pressures into sacks. That’s a focus, to be sure, but that’s not all that’s driving him.
“I want to be the best at my position,” Gary said. “When you say things like that, that’s where I want to be is be able to be top of the categories and things. But my No. 1 thing is bringing a ring back. So, I’m not really into all that, how people are looking at me. I’m into whatever I’ve got to do for this team so we can bring back the ring.”
With a shot at getting that ring last year as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, Gary was crushed by the playoff loss to San Francisco. He figures he’s watched the game more than 20 times. Not that he needed additional motivation, but the loss – his dominant performance notwithstanding – provided it. That was one reason why he attended the final week of OTAs, even while so many of his teammates got a jump-start on their vacations.
With a massive second contract on the horizon and a focus on bigger things for himself and a potential-packed defense, don’t expect Gary to slack off. That’s just not in his DNA.
“If you talk about wanting to be great or wanting to be the best, there’s certain things you’ve got to do,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I want to be good,’ and then don’t put in the work. That’s why hard work pays off and I put in the work.”
Gary’s work ethic starts at home with his mom, Jennifer, and his sister, Nafeesa, who is 10 years older than Gary. When he was the top recruit in the nation coming out of Plainfield, N.J., Gary got his first tattoo. It was his mom’s name, in cursive, on his left arm. The faces of mom and sister are also on Gary’s left arm, as is the phrase “My sister’s keeper.”
They are the inspiration behind his renowned work ethic.
“I come from a single-parent home,” Gary said. “My mom and sister, they both raised me. Seeing my mom work multiple jobs, seeing my sister work multiple jobs to feed me. I’m just so thankful the organization just gave me a chance because all I wanted to do was provide for them. I got that opportunity, that chance. That’s what I wanted.”
Rashan Gary Extra Points
Rashan Gary, on being a rare veteran standout attending final week of OTAs
“I’m just here trying to get better. We’re getting closer to the season so I’m here working with my outside linebacker coach and trying to bring the team together as we can. Got a lot of young pieces here. I want to make sure that they know the importance of building a championship team. We don’t have time to correct things. We’ve got to hit it full speed. So, I’m happy to be here so I can push the young guys, but I’m just here to get better for myself and better for this team.”
Rashan Gary, on personal goals
“No. 1 is a ring. Personal goals, I don’t like to talk about, but my No. 1 thing is getting us to that division championship, winning and going to the Super Bowl. That’s the No. 1 thing. We’ve been there three years in a row. We’ve got all the pieces. It’s just about putting it all together.”
Rashan Gary, on message to younger players
“Everything that we do as a Green Bay Packer, you’ve got to realize, we wear this helmet for the players that were before us. It’s a historical organization and I want the players to know that, because I had to grow respect and do my history on Green Bay. I feel like the more history and the more you dig into it, the more that you have respect for this team and organization, the harder that you’re going to play for them.
“That’s my No. 1 thing, man. We’re here to win the championship. We’ve been there three years in a row, playoffs. We’re right there. There’s something that we’re missing so we’ve got to come together. If your coach says your step is too wide, tighten up your step. If your hands are too wide, tighten your hands. Just the small things, making sure you’re going back and doing stuff so we can come back and be better as a defense and be better as a team.”
Rashan Gary on playoff loss
“More motivation than anything. Going to the playoffs three years in a row and coming up short – especially last year, where I felt like we could have went all the way and won – that hurt. That just gave me more motivation to go back and pick my game apart so I come back a better player for this team.”
Rashan Gary, on re-watching the playoff loss
“There’s a time and a place for everything. I feel like of course throughout this offseason and of course finishing, I probably watched it over 20 times, trying to find ways we could’ve won. That just tells you football is football. Sixty minutes is crazy, so you’ve got go as hard as you can for 60 minutes. But I watched it over 20 times and it just made me hungrier.”
Rashan Gary, on veteran examples
“You’ve got Marcedes Lewis, we had Davante Adams, you’ve got 12 (Aaron Rodgers). At the time I came in, we had Za’Darius Smith, Preston (Smith). You’ve got a lot of great examples with this organization. That’s one great thing that I keep thanking the organization for is just having great players so you can know what to do. You want to be a good player? This is what you look up to. You want to last long in the league? This is who you look up to. We have examples of everybody at high level, low level, guys on the way up. It’s a great locker room to have. It’s a lot of energy.”
Rashan Gary, on his next contract
“To be honest, man, I just try and stay focused and stay where my feet is. That’s the Green Bay Packers and trying to build myself up so we can be a Super Bowl-caliber team.”
But a big season will lead to a big contract.
“I leave all that to my people. When it comes to money, that’s something I don’t worry about. I’m here to play football and I’m here to be the best player I can for this team.”
But that contract would take care of his family and future generations.
“That would be my dream. That would be my dream. But I’ve got to keep my head down and work and not look too far ahead or all this talk is just talk.”