All eyes are on the Green Bay Packers wide receiver position this offseason – and understandably so. But another position with some major question marks is at edge rusher.
The Packers do have Rashan Gary and Preston Smith leading the way, and they were two of the more productive edge rushers in the NFL last season, both finishing top 10 in pressures created, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, edge rusher is a very heavily rotated position, which both Gary and Smith playing about 63% of the defensive snaps from a season ago. Outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich would also mention earlier this offseason that he wants a rotation of four players each week, and as of now, those third and fourth rotational roles are very much up for grabs.
“Right now, it’s pretty clear cut who are 1 and 2 are, but as far as 3 through 5, I think it’s anyone’s guess,” LaFleur said Saturday. “It’s going to be about how these guys develop and produce when given their opportunities.”
The Packers are only four training camp practices in, and the pads have yet to come on. So what we saw and heard from this first week of practices isn’t the be-all-end-all by any means, but it isn’t meaningless either.
With Gary and Smith with the starting defense, it has consistently been Tipa Galeai and La’Darius Hamilton rotating in with the second team defense, with both even seeing some snaps with the ones – perhaps providing us with some insight that these two are the current front-runners for those roles.
Galeai spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad in 2020 and began there last year, but he would see playing time from Week 11 on as the Packers dealt with injuries at edge rusher. In 82 pass-rush snaps, Galeai logged six pressures and one sack. He would rank 161st out of 200 eligible edge rushers by PFF’s pass-rush productivity measurement.
Galeai entered the NFL with several pass rush moves at his disposal and a quick burst, but at only 229 pounds, making sure he doesn’t consistently engage with an offensive tackle is important as he can very much be neutralized.
This makes it all the more impressive that Galeai held his own against the run last season – in a relatively small sample size – finishing 28th among edge rushers in PFF’s run-stop percentage. He also missed zero of his tackle opportunities.
Not long after Za’Darius Smith was placed on IR, the Packers picked up Hamilton off of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad. Hamilton is a 2020 undrafted free agent who saw his first action last season. In 36 pass-rush snaps, he logged three pressures.
As previously mentioned, the pads have yet to come on, and a lot can change.
Jonathan Garvin, who was on the field for almost 400 snaps a season ago, missed the first training camp practice but has since returned. Perhaps the Packers are bringing him along more slowly in the beginning and he will take on a larger role in the coming weeks.
Another player to watch is Randy Ramsey, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury. When discussing the edge rusher position earlier this offseason, Ramsey is someone that general manager Brian Gutekunst specifically mentioned that the team was “excited” to have back.
The Packers also have rookie Kingsley Enagbare, who took a few snaps with the starters during Saturday’s practice. Enagbare has to continue to develop as a run defender, but he is someone who could fill a rotational role in obvious passing situations.
Regardless of how things shake out at the edge rusher position, the Packers need more from the back end of this unit than what they got in 2021. While there is always going to be a dropoff when Smith and Gary aren’t on the field, there was very much a noticeable lack of impact plays from the rotational players against both the run and the pass. This is a big reason why the Packers went out and signed Whitney Mercilus.
Once the pads come on and the preseason games begin, we will have a better idea of where everyone stands – not to mention that as LaFleur said, these roster spots and the playing time that comes with it are still very much up in the air. Development and progression from day to day and week to week will be a must.
However, at least for now, it would appear that Galeai and Hamilton are the early front-runners for that playing time at the edge rusher position.
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