The Packers continued their defensive remodel in the 2019 NFL draft. With the 12th pick, they selected Rashan Gary to add more depth and athleticism to their defensive line. He joined Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith as the new faces of the Packers edge rush and expectations were high going into training camp. Gary was earning praise from Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst, Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
”He’s done a lot of nice things. The one thing I really like that he’s shown is just the effort that he plays with. The way we define that is you see a change of speed, a burst then to max speed, and then the finish. He’s had some good clips to show to the team.”
Rashan Gary impresses his teammates and coaches with his motor, natural ability, and work ethic. Going into preseason everyone was expected to see his impact in the game, but he was nowhere to be found. Gary played in three games and started two of them. He had one tackle for the entire preseason which was ended early against the Raiders when he left with an injury. The production was not what fans wanted to see, but the Packers coaching staff remained excited and optimistic about Gary moving forward.
“We’re teaching him all of it, so there’s some things he’s doing now that he won’t necessarily be doing in the regular season, Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine said. As we get closer, we’re going to start to hone that down and put him in a position where he’s ready to excel. He’s had some really good rush opportunities in these games and done a nice job on most of them. Sometimes it’s just the nature of the game.”
Rashan Gary played 66 snaps in his first two preseason games. So many expected him to play a role in the opening game against the Bears, but the Smiths dominated the entire game, causing him to be sidelined for the majority of Thursday night. Gary played six snaps (8% of the total snaps) in the entire game which was the second lowest among the defensive line only beating out Fadol Brown. Rashan Gary’s first game was forgettable since he did not manage a single tackle during his six snaps, but he did manage to bring pressure on Trubisky as seen below.
How'd Rashan Gary look on Thursday? He played 6 snaps… Here's 2 of them!
Both L-DE. One stand up, one hand in dirt
Each have a stunt/twist incorporated – might be the best way to free him up in 2019…
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 10, 2019
Rashan Gary’s lack of playing time is a surprise to many. When a team drafts a player in the first round, especially the top 20, the team expects them to come in and make an impact. Looking at the top 20 picks in the 2019 draft, Rashan Gary only played more snaps than four rookies. The players he beat out are Daniel Jones, who is sitting out for the year behind Manning, Jonah Williams who is out for the year with a labrum injury, Dwayne Haskins who is also sitting behind Keenum, and Jeffery Simmons, who is out for the year with an ACL injury. Ferrell and Fant have not played yet, but Ferrell is slated as a starter and Fant is expected to be a key player in the Broncos’ passing game. For Rashan Gary to play such a small role is surprising especially when you compare it to the rest of the rookies in the first round. Even the Packers second first round pick, Darnell Savage, played all 73 snaps for the defense. Yes, the secondary needed him to start, but when you draft someone 12th over it is strange to give him such a small role.
The two reasons that stand out as to why he had such a small role is injury and stacked defensive line. Rashan Gary was drafted knowing he had a shoulder injury. The plan that he and the team had was to play his rookie season and then get surgery in the offseason. Perhaps that could be holding back from making the impact he could or earning more playing time. Gary also sustained a knee injury week three of the preseason against the Raiders. He missed some practice, but reports came out that it was not a serious injury and he was ready to go.
The Packers may have wanted to give him some more rest to ensure he would be healthy for the longevity of the season. Injuries are tricky, especially when it is your 12th overall pick in a position where he is not needed every play. The Packers signed Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith who both played over 90% of the defensive snaps, and still have Fackrell who had double-digit sacks for them last season. Rashan Gary is a nice piece to have and use, but is not a crucial part of the defense. The Packers could be taking their time bringing the young defensive end along.
Looking at week two against the Vikings, the Packers are facing a team that only threw the ball 10 times last game. The Vikings have been very vocal about committing the run this season and they executed that plan perfectly week one. Dalvin Cook had over 100 yards rushing and added two scores on top of that. The Packers will have their hands full against an offense that used Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as plan B last week. When a team commits to the running game, it takes a toll on the defensive line. The Packers will need to rely on their depth to keep the energy high and stop the offense. Look for Gary to be used more which will allow Za’Darius Smith to bring pressure from the inside and give the Vikings different looks on defense. Rashan Gary also has the power to line up on the inside which gives him more opportunities to see the field.
Last week Gary did not see the field much, but going against the run-first Vikings might be the opportunity he needs to come in and earn more snaps. He is a young, talented defensive end that fans should expect to see more as the season goes along. The Packers are in a position they have not had in the last decade. Their defense has talent and depth, which should be scary for the rest of the NFL if their offense can pick it up this week.