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Six Days Until Training Camp: Outside Linebackers Preview

While the Packers need more out of The Smith Bros., the arrow is pointing straight up for former first-round pick Rashan Gary.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers training camp starts on July 27, with the first practice on July 28. Our Training Camp Countdown series continues with the seventh of our positional previews, the outside linebackers.

Packers Outside Linebacker Depth Chart Quick Reads

Za’Darius Smith: Smith has been worth every penny of the four-year, $64 million contract he inked in 2019. He had 13.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2019 and 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2020. While the big plays were up, the down-to-down production was down. In 2019, he tied for the NFL lead with 37 quarterback hits, according to the official league stats. By’s count, he led the NFL with 93 quarterback pressures – the most by any edge defender since Khalil Mack had 96 for the Raiders in 2016. In 2020, he ranked 10th with 23 quarterback hits, according to the league stats, and tied for 17th with 51 pressures, according to PFF. His run defense depends on his mood, it seems.

Rashan Gary: As promised by position coach Mike Smith, Gary took a big step forward in Year 2. As a first-round pick in 2019, Gary had 21 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses, three quarterback hits and 15 total pressures. In 2020, he had 34 tackles, five sacks, five tackles for losses, 11 quarterback hits and 39 total pressures. To be sure, it was helpful that his playing time on passing downs doubled but, among the 120-or-so edge defenders with 100 pass rushes, Gary went from 61st to 15th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, a formula of sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.

Preston Smith: While Za’Darius Smith’s down-to-down production slipped, Preston Smith’s plummeted. He went from 12 sacks, 23 quarterback hits (official stats) and 55 pressures (PFF) to four sacks, 11 hits and 26 pressures. At least he led the team with eight stuffs (a tackle at or behind the line vs. the run). The Packers restructured Smith’s contract, figuring it was a better investment to cut his cap charge of $16 million to $8.75 million instead of swallowing a bunch of dead cap money. Smith can earn back his lost wages with a bounce-back season.

Randy Ramsey: An undrafted free agent in 2019, “Rambo” spent his rookie season impersonating the opponent’s top pass rusher while on the practice squad. He made the team in 2020. After missing the first three games due to injury, Ramsey wound up playing 12 of the final 13 games. In 75 snaps on defense, he made two tackles. In 50 pass rushes, he had two pressures. However, he finished second on the team with nine tackles on special teams – all during the second half of the season – and added two more in the playoffs. He should be a key member of new coordinator Maurice Drayton’s units, if nothing else.

Jonathan Garvin: As a rookie seventh-round pick, Garvin made no impact on defense. That wasn’t surprising considering the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Nonetheless, his rookie season was a tremendous disappointment. Linebackers who aren’t mainstays on defense must be contributors on special teams. Instead, even on Green Bay’s disastrous special teams, Garvin couldn’t get on the field. He was inactive for the second half of the season and both playoff games. He finished the season with five tackles in 85 snaps on defense and one pressure in 55 rushes. He played merely 22 snaps on special teams. There’s upside, though, after he recorded 10.5 sacks and 26 tackles for losses during his final two seasons at Miami.

Delontae Scott: Scott is back for a second season but at a new position. As a senior defensive end at SMU in 2019, Scott earned second-team all-conference honors after posting 10 sacks, 18 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles. That ran his career totals to 18 sacks, 36 TFLs and five forced fumbles. Still, he wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine, nor was he drafted. The Packers signed him with a $7,000 bonus and guaranteed $15,000 of his base salary. Green Bay moved him to the defensive line, and he spent his rookie season on the practice squad. The Packers moved him back to the edge for 2021.

Tipa Galeai: An undrafted free agent in 2020, Galeai spent his first two collegiate seasons at TCU before transferring to Utah State. After sitting out the 2017 season, Galeai recorded 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles as a junior and five sacks and nine tackles for losses as a senior. Galeai spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster for the opener but didn’t get on the stat sheet in nine snaps. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 229 pounds last year, his big thing was building an NFL body to better compete this year.

Carlo Kemp: Before the 2021 draft, Kemp said he could envision himself playing a role similar to the one his former Michigan teammate, Gary, plays in the NFL. Kemp went undrafted and joined Gary with the Packers. He’s listed as an outside linebacker but spent the offseason practices split between linebacker and defensive line. Kemp recorded 4.5 sacks in four seasons. Football is in his DNA. He is a nephew of NFL coaches Chuck and John Pagano and the son of Jennifer Pagano. His high school coach was Tom McCartney, a son of legendary Colorado coach Bill McCartney. His agent is another of McCartney’s sons, Mike.

Big Story Lines at Outside Linebacker

One: More is needed out of Za’Darius Smith. Of 112 edge defenders with at least 140 rushes, he ranked No. 1 in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity in 2019. In 2020, he was 46th. He is capable of playing consistently strong run defense. He was superb in that regard during the NFC Championship Game, for instance. That needs to be the standard for a team leader. On the other hand, he has a total of one pressure in 73 pass-rushing snaps in his two NFC Championship Games compared to 19 pressures in his two NFC divisional games. Those are front-runner traits, and probably why he’s been “snubbed” from various top-players lists.

“They’re still snubbing me,” Smith said last month of such lists. “It is what it is. I feel like it adds fuel to the fire, and I’m going to continue to prove myself. I think when I came out of Baltimore, I led the team in sacks and pressures and hits. And then I came here and had a dominant year, and it was basically another snub year. And after last year, I was (fourth) in the league in sacks, (third) with forced fumbles, and they’re still snubbing me. But it is what it is. Like I said, it’s going to continue to add fuel to the fire, and I’m just going to continue to prove myself each and every year.”

Two: More is needed out of Preston Smith, too. To entice him to swallow the renegotiation, the Packers gave him a $6.5 million signing bonus. Smith has a slimmed-down paycheck and a slimmed-down physique entering the upcoming season.

“He does look a lot leaner than he did coming in last training camp,” position coach Mike Smith said. “Those guys know how I feel about training. To me, that’s the edge and that’s the secret. I was fortunate enough to play with Ray Lewis for a while and if you’d ask him, he’d tell you that’s his No. 1 thing. It’s just human nature. Guys get tired and, you get into the fourth quarter, they’re eventually going to give up. The better shape we’re in, we can go all game, it’s better for us. Those guys know. I’m sure Preston is training his butt off, which you can tell when he came in.”

Three: Patience is a virtue. With the Smith Bros. locked into the starting roles in 2019, Mike Smith could afford to take a patient approach with Gary, the 12th pick of the draft. When reporters questioned Smith about Gary’s lack of production and playing time, Smith continually said Gary was doing the right things. The payoff came last year.

“It happens a lot, not just in sports but probably in life in general, that you already make an assumption off a first year of a guy,” Mike Smith said. “Maybe because of where Rashan got drafted early in the first round, ‘Well, he’s going to come in and be a starter and be an All-Pro.’ It don’t work like that, and you’ve got to have a plan for these guys. And I’ve been here long enough where if you force a guy to get in the game early enough in his career and force him to play when he’s not ready, you can do a lot of damage. I was blessed enough to have some good depth that first year where I can allow Rashan to have that progression, which you see that progression from the first year to the second year. I expect a big jump from Year 3. That’s our plan and you’ve got to stick with that plan.”

Four: Who will round out the depth chart? Will the Packers keep four? Five? Special teams will be key in that discussion come the end of August. Ramsey, as one of the better special-teams performers on the team, should be front and center in that discussion. But Garvin, Scott and Galeai posted excellent production in college and should push for a spot on the 53, as well.

“I got a lot of guys that can play in my room that you can do a lot of good things with,” Mike Smith said. “Everybody’s asking, ‘How are you going to get them on the field?’ Well, you need that many pass rushers and guys of their size and strength.”

Outside Linebackers Coach Mike Smith Says

On the depth of his position group:

“I was actually thinking about it this morning how grateful I am for my room. I got a bunch of tough, mean, nasty dudes. And you’re probably sitting back saying, ‘Well, that’s football.’ Well, I’ll tell you what, times have changed, and it’s crazy. Like I said, I was thinking about this: It’s hard to find guys that are tough like that anymore. And, I’ll admit, until about three years ago, I used to say that kids have changed. My oldest son got into sports, and the kids haven’t changed; the parents have changed. You’re allowing your kids to act the way they act. I saw a kid the other day that was playing in the freakin’ dirt that wouldn’t play in the baseball game. His parents let him do it, so we were short one outfielder. I don’t want to start rambling, but that’s why I’m grateful for my room. I’ll be honest with you, my mom and dad, apparently, they abused me growing up. They gave me chores, they made me go to school, they gave me a curfew. If I did something wrong, they smacked my ass. They put food on the table, I was expected to eat it. They put clothes on my back, I was expected to wear them. They suggested I get a job and work for things that I wanted. They insisted I do good in school, do good in my job and take pride in my work. I grew up with morals, good work ethic, respected the law, elders. I thank God for my parents. I give a shoutout to my guys, their family, their parents, because they did a heck of a job raising them. They’re tough kids that love to work.”

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