High hopes for Packers' defense-first draft class
By: By Chris Jenkins, AP Sports Writer, Superior Telegram
GREEN BAY — Not even a full day into his Green Bay Packers career, first-round draft pick Nick Perry was asked if he knew that some fans already are wondering if his pass-rush skills can make him something of a savior for the defense.
No pressure, kid.
Can he at least have a few minutes to figure out where the restroom is?
"I can't really say that I'm going to be the savior, but I'm going to put my best foot forward to help the situation," said Perry, the No. 28 overall pick out of USC.
With new Packers players set to hit the practice field Friday afternoon for the team's rookie minicamp, the same hope could be placed upon several other Packers draftees.
Looking to patch some holes in one of the league's leakiest defenses, Packers general manager Ted Thompson used his first six picks in last month's NFL draft on defensive players.
Second-round pick Jerel Worthy, a defensive lineman out of Michigan State, is well aware of the expectations.
"Definitely," Worthy said. "Because you've got to understand, the veterans on this defense didn't do as well as they wanted to last year, so they have a chip on their shoulder. So when you come in, you have to go with the flow of them, you have to work just as hard as them and you have to be able to pick up on the defense just as fast as they do. You've got to have that same attitude, that same hunger that the veterans have."
But Worthy did say it was somewhat surreal to be asked about possibly making major contributions to a potential Super Bowl contender before he even hit the practice field.
"Man, it's a little different," Worthy said. "But you've just got to get acclimated to it. It's a big stage, one of the greatest organizations in professional sports and you've got to take it all in. Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming, but I'm just trying to stay within myself and stay humble and stay hungry and just get after it."
At least some business issues already are out of the way.
Thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement that leaves relatively little leeway for negotiating rookie contracts, the Packers had signed all eight of their eight draft picks by Friday afternoon.
The team announced that it has signed Perry, Worthy, second-round cornerback Casey Hayward, fourth-round defensive tackle Mike Daniels, fourth-round safety Jerron McMillian, fifth-round linebacker Terrell Manning, seventh-round tackle Andrew Datko and seventh-round quarterback B.J. Coleman. Green Bay also signed 14 undrafted free agents.
Although it will be difficult for coaches to make meaningful evaluations of new players until training camp starts, three rookies could be in line for immediate opportunities to make significant contributions: Perry, Worthy and McMillian.
The Packers have struggled to find a consistently productive outside linebacker to play opposite Clay Matthews the past few seasons, and their pass rush sagged significantly last year. Perry's combination of size and speed — he weighs 270 and runs a 4.55-second 40-yard dash — could fill a glaring need. Assuming he can make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker, that is.
"Right now, I know that we need help, obviously, on defense," Perry said. "But I'm just excited the opportunity is here, and I just want to take advantage of it any way I can."
Worthy could figure in right away at defensive end, where the Packers never really found a replacement for departed free agent Cullen Jenkins last season. The oft-injured Mike Neal will miss the first four games of the 2012 season because of a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, and free agent signee Anthony Hargrove received an eight-game suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty controversy.
"If I end up starting, that's a good thing," Worthy said. "But at the same time, I just want to hold it down while those guys are away, so when they come back, it makes our defense even (better)."
McMillian, meanwhile, could get a shot at safety for a team that released Pro Bowl player Nick Collins amid concerns about his ability to safely return from a season-ending neck injury. That would be a big leap for a player from Maine, but he's ready to take it on.
"Sometimes you've just got to be willing to make that next step in life, and I think I'm ready to do that," McMillian said.