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‘You Don’t’ Replace Gary, But Enagbare Is Up for Challenge

The Green Bay Packers suffered a major blow to their defense when Rashan Gary suffered a torn ACL. Ascending rookie Kingsley Enagbare is the next man up.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – How will the Green Bay Packers replace Rashan Gary?

“You don’t,” outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich said.

Unless the Packers intend to line up with only 10 defenders against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, they in fact will have to replace Gary. The next man up is rookie Kingsley Enagbare.

A fifth-round pick, Enagbare has been a player on the rise. In his first five games, he had three tackles, zero sacks, zero tackles for losses and zero quarterback hits. In his last four games, he had eight tackles, two sacks, four tackles for losses and three quarterback hits. He would have had another sack last week if not for a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty at Detroit.

“It’s an art and a science to rush the quarterback,” Rebrovich said. “You can’t just throw some Joe Schmo out there and say ‘Hey, go run around the edge and make something happen.’ You have to take the time to develop them. I think what we’ve done here, not only from a positional coach standpoint, but the guys in that room have done an unbelievable job of adopting J.J. and helping him through his course.

“You can see it. You can see it on the field. He is reflecting a lot of the things that we’re asking him to do from college and breaking some things that maybe he did there or adding some things that he did very well there. He’s getting better and his confidence level is going up. You can see that the forming of this player is coming along.”

The Packers will need Enagbare’s development to hit a new level over the next couple months. Gary is among the NFL’s best pass rushers. After recording 9.5 sacks and finishing second among edge defenders with 81 pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus, he had six sacks to start this season. So, from that perspective, Rebrovich is right. Combine talent with possessing the “true definition of grit,” as defensive coordinator Joe Barry put it, Gary had emerged as one of the most irreplaceable players on the roster.

“It definitely sucks,” Enagbare said. “For me, personally, that’s a guy I watch each day. He helps me get better. He’s a future Hall of Famer. So, that’s definitely going to hurt us, definitely going to hurt me. We’ve got to keep on pushing, keep on learning and find ways to go around it.”

At least Enagbare is producing and ascending. Last year, combined, all of Green Bay’s backup outside linebackers contributed 3.5 sacks and three tackles for losses in 564 pass-rushing opportunities and 772 defensive snaps.

During his first five games, Enagbare had zero pressures in 35 pass-rushing opportunities, according to PFF. The last four games, Enagbare had six pressures in 49 pass-rushing snaps. He already has more tackles for losses (four) in 155 defensive snaps than all of last year’s backups had combined in 17 games.

Kingsley Enagbare would have had a third sack in five games if not for hitting Jared Goff in the head. (Photo by Lon Horwedel/USA Today Sports)

Kingsley Enagbare would have had a third sack in five games if not for hitting Jared Goff in the head. (Photo by Lon Horwedel/USA Today Sports)

“It’s definitely a confidence thing,” he said. “Like I tell some of the guys who might not be confident now, I tell them for me, it started off with preseason. I really didn’t go against any starters.

“For me, it was whether or not I can play vs. the starters. ‘Can I hold my own?’ As the season went on, it started with holding my own to ‘Can I make plays against those guys?’ It went from that to, ‘How consistently can I do it?’ Now, it’s, ‘Can I start dominating guys?’ I think with me, I would say ever since that Tampa game, I felt like I had a couple good rushes then. That kind of sparked the change (to), ‘’All right, I can beat some of these guys.’”

Just about every professional athlete exudes confidence. You don’t become one of the best of the best without having that belief. Still, for a midround draft pick like Enagbare, there was that need to prove that you belong.

“Most definitely,” he said. “Just coming from college, it’s a different aspect coming from I was a starter in college to now [being] a role player and having to play a finite role. For me, I kind of need that confidence. Knowing I did it in college, can I do it here? Do it in the big leagues? Once I got that first play, I felt like the first positive play, big impact play, it kind of opened it up and helped me play as if I was playing in college again, getting that juice back, getting that confidence.”

Now, he’ll get an opportunity to keep growing. That’s the reality of life in the NFL.

“It’s like a rose,” Enagbare said. “It’s beautiful but it also has its thorns to it. You never know when you might get poked. Just pretty much everyone has to have that mentality just as an NFL player.”

Gary might be gone but he’s not forgotten. He had taken Enagbare under his wing from Day 1. That mentorship will continue, as much as it can, as Gary rehabs an injury that could keep him out into the start of next season.

“Pretty much right after the game, the first thing he said to me when we saw each other, pretty much he’s going to be here for me,” Enagbare said. “He’s trying to keep me going. I’m like, ‘Dang, it’s supposed to be reversed.’ That just goes to show what kind of man and what kind of teammate he is. Him looking out for us and pretty much didn’t say anything about his injury. He came to our position group and expressed to us that he’s going to be here for us. That just shows what kind of man he is.”

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