Losing Za’Darius Smith for any time is not ideal for the Green Bay Packers, but it helps to have an ascending young talent like Rashan Gary ready to go. After bursting onto the scene in the second half last season, the time is now for the third-year edge rusher out of Michigan.
Everyone knows the story by now. Preston Smith took a step back in production last year, and it opened the door for Gary to slide and start. He not only took advantage of the opportunity, but he also ran away with it.
In Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, Gary’s role was somewhat limited. He only rushed the passer 16 times, yet he forced four quarterback pressures in that limited sample size. To better put that into perspective, after Week 1, Gary ranked 19 out of 138 edge rushers with those four quarterback pressures, and he did it with not a ton of opportunity.
With Smith on injured reserve, opportunities won’t be a problem for Gary. He just needs to do what he did last year and take it to the next level. Gary knows this is his moment to grasp the spotlight.
“I’m ready for whatever the team throws at me, and I really mean that,” Gary said on Saturday. “I believe in my hard work from the offseason to now; I’m just ready. Whatever’s thrown my way, I’m ready to handle it.”
“In my head, I’m a starter and in my head, I’m an impact player for this team and that’s how I go about my week.”
In the land of cheese, everyone is giddy about Gary, and for good reason. They, along with countless others, have waited for the versatile edge rusher to have a more advanced role on this defense. It’s not often that a former first-round pick doesn’t get a “full-time” workload until their third season to prove themselves, but that’s how it’s shaken out for Gary in Green Bay. With both Smith’s holding down the fort the last two years, it was tough for Gary to wiggle into the mix despite how well he looked in the back half of last season.
Nobody wants the Packers to be without Za’Darius Smith. The dude has been a flat-out demon in Green Bay, registering back-to-back double-digit sack seasons in both his years in Wisconsin. This defense often goes as he goes. But there is a sense that things will be fine on the edge even with him going on injured reserve for a few weeks because Gary is slotted in.
Gary’s first test will come against the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
In their Week 1 tilt against the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit’s offensive line yielded 27 total pressures and 3 sacks. Those numbers jump off the page and indicate a stout Niners defensive line and a Lions O-line that is still trying to solve the riddle as the regular season begins.
Jared Goff was pretty solid for the Lions in their loss to San Francisco; however, he isn’t exactly known for his mobility. He can get out of the pocket and make throws on the move, but this isn’t Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson on the go. Goff wouldn’t even be close to that second tier of guys like Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert as it pertains to mobility.
Gary has to be anticipating a huge performance after seeing the Lions’ offensive line get pushed around against the 49ers with a pocket passing quarterback in Goff behind them. Stepping into a starting role where expectations will be elevated and getting the Lions out of the gate is not too shabby of a draw.
Gary has all the makings of a player who will dominate on the edge for the next seven or eight years in the NFL. It took some time, but it was no fault of his own. It was the crowded room at the position that slimmed the chances for Gary early on.
Imagine parents buying their kid a brand new car when they are 13-years-old. They have to sit and wait until they are 16 before they can enjoy it. They get glimpses behind the wheel when they get their learner’s permit, but it’s not the same. Day after day, that kid is just staring at the car, waiting until they get their driver’s license.
Green Bay has essentially done this with Rashan Gary while dangling him in front of Packers fans for over two years now. They’ve gotten a tease here and there, and when he started last year, there was widespread celebration. Now, he’s set to get the full workload, and Packers fans and coaches anticipate big results.
It is somewhat odd to lose an NFL Second-Team All-Pro who’s in his prime and yet still feel almost as confident with who is filling in. It’s a fairly abnormal situation that Green Bay finds themselves in with Gary, but it should pay off in a big way. Some may roll their eyes at the hype, but it’s legitimate. And Packers fans aren’t the only ones fully invested in what Gary could become. The biggest hype-man might be Green Bay’s outside linebacker coach, Mike Smith. Smith is as excited to see Gary unleashed as anyone.
“I’m not going to lie, I just gave me goosebumps just talking about him,” Smith said. “It’s just all coming together. It’s his third year. I’ve got to the point where he knows exactly what I want. He knows his rushing style, who he is, how he’s going to set people up, what his strength is, all that stuff. … It means something to him. Everything. He wants to be the best rusher, he wants to be the best stopping the run and he wants to be the best in the coverage. Ultimately, he wants to be the best 3-4 linebacker in the NFL. And I love that. He’s a damned good player..“(I) can’t cuss in here but … he’s (expletive) damned good.”
It’s Rashan Gary’s time, and it starts against Detroit on Monday Night Football.