Green Bay Packers edge rusher Rashan Gary has been turning heads at training camp this year. When you consider that expectations were already high for the former University of Michigan star, that’s saying a lot.
Gary has been building to this moment since he came into the league as the Packers first-round pick in 2019. Gary is an elite athlete. He is fast and strong and has all the tools necessary to excel as an NFL edge rusher. But he was considered a raw talent who needed to hone his skills to excel in the pros.
At Michigan, Gary didn’t put up outstanding statistics. His role in the Wolverines defense was often to occupy blockers and to help his teammates make sacks, tackles and plays. Many Packers fans were disappointed with the selection of Gary and were critical of him on social media when he didn’t see the field much right away.
In his first season with the team, Gary didn’t see much action, being stuck behind recently signed free agents Preston Smit and Za’Darius Smith. He played just 24 percent of the team’s defensive snaps seeing time as a rotational player. He made two sacks and was credited with 21 total tackles and five quarterback pressures according to pro-football-reference.com.
A year later, Gary showed marked improvement. His sack total reached five while he had 19 pressures and 35 total tackles. He was also on the field for 48 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and became the team’s undisputed third edge rusher.
In 2021, Gary took another step forward. With Za’Darius Smith out nearly the entire season with a back injury, Gary and Preston Smith took over as the team’s starting edge rushers. Gary led the team with 9.5 sacks while playing 68 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He had a team-high 9.5 sacks and 47 quarterback pressures, one of the best pressure rates in the league.
Nobody has questioned Gary’s work ethic. Each offseason he puts video of his offseason workouts up and his practice habits and regimen are impressive to watch. He also studies film extensively to gain an edge and find the little things that can help him beat blockers.
The Packers see the potential for Gary to become a dominant, Pro Bowl-level performer.
“Rashan is a tone-setter and I think you guys see that each and every day,” head coach Matt LaFleur said shortly after training camp opened. “He’s got the capability of wrecking practice. He probably would have had four sacks [on Thursday]. He’s just relentless. He plays with a great motor and energy and I think it rubs off on everybody. He makes everybody around him better.”
As he enters his fourth NFL season, Gary is in the unfamiliar position of being a mentor to the younger players at his position. Fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare has been learning from Gary and view himself as playing a similar style.
“Rashan, he’s kind of like a power rusher like I would kind of call myself, so just seeing certain things he does and asking why he does certain things and what he does to set O-linemen up,” Enagbare told The Athletic. “I feel like eventually, over time, I’ll definitely match him. Right now, I’m just trying to learn, picking brains as much as possible.”
Gary, meanwhile, has seen things go full circle for him as in four years he went from the young guy trying to learn from the veterans to one of the experienced players mentoring the rookies.
“I had great examples in front of me, so when rookies ask me questions, like just now I was having a talk with 55 [Enagbare] and he was asking about practice and what he can do to show his talents and everything,” Gary said. “I’m like, ‘Do everything that you’ve been doing, man. You’re hungry for knowledge and you’re getting better day-by-day. You’re not making the same mistake.’ So, you know, I’m just naturally doing what I normally do from when I was at Michigan to now. I’m just fully comfortable now.”
Being fully comfortable is evident in the way Gary is playing and his teammates can see it. “He’s been impressive since he’s been here,” Preston Smith told reporters. “Just seeing Rashan grow from a rookie until now, it’s just impressive. We’ve just seen what he did last year and I called it. I did call it early in the offseason. He just keeps on stacking those years and keeps coming in working hard. He’s growing into a leader of his own.”
Even though he’s entering his fourth year in the league, Gary is still just 24. He is just entering his prime as a player and seems poised to be a leader and an elite player on this defense. This could be his true breakout season. For Rashan Gary, it appears the best is yet to come.
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