Green Bay Packers

Rashan Gary Is Becoming the Pulse of Green Bay’s Defense

Photo credit: Mark Hoffman (USA TODAY Sports-Milwaukee)

Rashan Gary saw firsthand the impact that Za’Darius Smith had on the Green Bay Packers’ defense, both on the field and as a leader in the locker room. The same can be said for Preston Smith, who still carries one of the torches.

Now, entering a year where expectations are for Gary to put forth an All-Pro campaign, the bulldozing edge rusher is embracing his leadership role on the team. He just might become the pulse of Joe Barry’s unit in the process.

Green Bay’s defense is full of alphas at all three levels of the defense. Jaire Alexander holds down the fort in the secondary and isn’t shy about speaking up to encourage teammates or trash talk at opposing receivers. De’Vondre Campbell is coming off an All-Pro year. Now, in his second year with the Packers, he should theoretically be even more comfortable in his role on the defense.

Then there’s up front on the defensive line.

Kenny Clark is a menace for opposing offensive lines, and Preston Smith is coming off a stout 2021 season. It’s Gary, though, who’s really taking on a leadership role.

“It’s kinda crazy,” Gary said. “I had great examples in front of me, so when rookies ask me questions — like just now I was having a talk with 55, J.J. (Enagbare), and he was asking about practice and what he can do to show his talents and everything. 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.’ … I’m just fully comfortable now.”

Gary’s comfortability is noticeable. It started last year when Za’Darius Smith went on the shelf after Week 1 for the rest of the regular season. That opened a door for Gary, and he jumped right through it. Gary tallied 9.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits while forcing two fumbles in 16 starts. His emergence made Za’Darius Smith expendable as Green Bay realized it had its top edge rusher of the future.

The ceiling is even higher for Gary’s encore performance this year, but the fourth-year former Michigan Wolverine doesn’t seem phased by the spotlight. Gary is the one to watch on a defense littered with incredible talent and several pieces that just seem to fit together.

Head coach Matt LaFleur has taken notice as well.

“Rashan is a tone-setter, and I think you guys see that each and every day. He’s got the capability of wrecking practice …,” LaFleur said. “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.”

Typically, losing a player like Za’Darius Smith would leave a massive vacancy. The difference for Green Bay is that they essentially saw life without “Z” last season and realized what they had in Gary.

For maybe the first time in Aaron Rodgers‘ career, there are more questions on the offensive side of the ball than there are about the defensive. With Barry in his second year running the show as the defensive coordinator and Green Bay finding ways to bring back Campbell and Rasul Douglas in free agency, the defense looks primed to be one of the best in the NFL.

If there were any questions about depth issues or potential weak spots next to Clark and Campbell, the Packers used both first-round picks on defensive players from Georgia in linebacker Quay Walker and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt. There’s excitement about the rookies, eagerness to see Alexander back and healthy after missing much of the regular season — and perhaps a little anxiousness to see how Campbell and Douglas follow up the best seasons of their careers.

The real key will be Gary’s ability to get to the quarterback and wreck plans for the opposing offense to set up his fellow teammates for success. It all comes with the territory of being an evolving leader and one of the cornerstones of a defense ready to make some noise.

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