Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry practiced on Thursday for the first time since training camp opened.
On the eve of camp, Perry was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with foot and knee injuries, the same he dealt with last season.
That followed an offseason program in which Perry did not take part in a single practice, not a solitary Organized Team Activity or minicamp session. Perry has a lot to prove after missing so much time, but for one day, he could feel good about returning to action.
"We're just taking the right steps to move ahead and not worry about all the other stuff going on," said Perry. "And I think we're hitting a point where now we can really focus on football. I've been working my tail off, trying to get where I'm at now, and things are looking good now."
Perry followed in the footsteps of fellow outside linebacker Mike Neal, who also was activated off the PUP list a day prior.
Together they join one of the deepest positions on the Packers roster, at least in term of competition.
Good news for both of them, there appears to be no need to hold back despite the injuries that prevented the pair from practicing the first four days of camp.
"No restrictions," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "It was good to get Nick back out there. Mike obviously practiced yesterday, had a good day, did some really good things today, so you can't have enough really good football players."
The outside linebacker position is chock full of talent, following the additions of Julius Peppers in free agency, Carl Bradford in the NFL Draft and Adrian Hubbard and Jayrone Elliott in undrafted free agency.
That's not to mention holdovers like Clay Matthews, the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL, as well as second-year players Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.
One of the more anticipated developments of training camp, still waiting a full unveiling, is how the Packers potentially use Peppers, Perry and Neal as an "Elephant" in their defensive system, a hybrid end/outside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers, however, is keeping some of his defensive secrets under wraps, not wanting opponents to know exactly what's coming.
But there's one thing Green Bay can bank on: If all these aforementioned outside linebackers stay healthy and live up to expectations, the sky is the limit.
"It is," said Perry. "It's a lot scarier knowing we got guys that can really step up and do a lot for this defense and the whole team as well. So having that depth helps a lot."
Perry in particular is hoping for a dose of good health, above all. At seemingly every turn, just as Perry was starting to ramp up his play, he would run into a brick wall in the form of an injury.
In the sixth game of his rookie year, Perry suffered a broken wrist and was forced to spend the rest of the season on injured reserve. That was after he came up with two sacks in the first five games of his career.
Then in 2013, with Perry in the midst of his second year in the NFL, he was starting to put concerns about a lost rookie year behind him. During back-to-back games against the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens in Weeks 6 and 7, Perry had a combined three sacks and two forced fumbles, the best two-game stretch of his young career.
Finally, the Packers saw a glimpse of the player they hoped they'd see from the first round of the 2012 draft. Unfortunately, Perry broke a bone in his heel against the Ravens and spent the rest of the season hobbled by the injury.
"There's always that notion that goes back that I think, 'Could I have been healthy, things would have been better for me,'" said Perry. "I haven't had the seasons I want due to that, but the main goal I have every year is stay healthy and play to the best of my ability and help my teammates any way I can. So I'm glad to be here, it's an honor to be here, and I'm ready to roll this year."
McCarthy couldn't agree any more. He knows injuries are a part of football.
Some players are more unlucky than others. It's not as if Perry was a victim of a soft-tissue injury that can be brought on on by poor conditioning, such as the pulled hamstrings that have plagued so many other players on the Packers roster.
Perry has had two broken bones in two season. Now they're healed, and the former USC product can look ahead to helping the 2014 version of the Packers.
"Availability is a primary focus for job responsibility, definitely," said McCarthy. "So we've obviously had some tough times in the past, but we feel like we're doing things to stay in front of that. Nick and some players go through an injury situations, one then two. Sometimes it just takes a little while to get off that cycle. So hopefully he's off that."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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