‘Big things’ ahead for Packers’ DE Rashan Gary with fully healthy offseason

By: Paul Bretl 6/24/24

The big difference for Green Bay Packers defensive end Rashan Gary this offseason compared to last isn’t that he’s adjusting to a new defensive scheme under Jeff Hafley. It’s that he’s fully healthy and able to work on his game rather than having to rehab.

“Man, it’s a blessing,” said Rashan Gary at his locker following the Packers’ second minicamp practice. “I remember when I first got back here, and I was talking to the training staff. I’m like, ‘I miss this. I actually miss this.’ Just having the offseason to do what I need to do, I worked on parts of my game I really didn’t have time to work on last year. It’s very important and very crucial for me, so now I’m just enjoying it and thankful to God.”

Gary suffered that ACL injury during Week 9 of the 2022 season. To the surprise of many, he was available for the Packers’ Week 1 matchup against Chicago to open up the 2023 season, roughly just 10 months removed from when the injury occurred.

Easing Gary back in, he was used in a rotational capacity for the first five games of the season, averaging just 21 snaps per contest during that span. However, Gary made the most of those opportunities, totaling eight pressures and leading the NFL with a pass rush win rate of a whopping 33.3 percent, meaning that every three snaps, he was beating the offensive lineman he was lined up against.

Realistically, there was no way that pace would be maintained over the course of a season, especially as Gary’s workload returned to normal capacity. Gary finished the season with 66 pressures, which ranked 20th among edge rushers, and he was 21st in pass-rush win rate.

Oftentimes, when players are working their way back from injuries, they’re almost playing catch up to a degree throughout the offseason and even into the season–trying to work their way back to where they were rather than having the opportunity to focus on specific aspects of their game in an effort to get ahead.

A year ago, Gary was working through the former, just trying to get healthy. Now, he is living in the latter, with a full offseason to continue perfecting his craft.

“I think that’ll be great for him because he’s coming in with the right mindset,” said Preston Smith about Gary. “He’s been doing a lot of great things and of course you see what he did last season. I think this season is to realize what he needed to work on last year and to fix coming off injury.

“This year, having a chance to be healthy through a whole offseason and to get ready for the season, I think it’s gonna be big for him. I’m expecting a lot of big things out of him.”

In part, Gary’s early season success last year was a product of the situations he was being put in. With him on a snap count, the Packers were strategically using him on obvious passing downs, where all he had to worry about was getting after the quarterback. Naturally, Gary won a high number of those reps–he’s just that good.

This new defense under Hafley should afford Gary and the rest of the Packers’ defensive front the opportunity to just go and get the football, which, as we’ve seen, Gary excels at.

“Attack, attack, attack,” said Gary of Hafley’s defense. “Aggressive and I’m loving it. Just pin your ears back and relax and play.”

Under former defensive coordinator Joe Barry, it was a two-gap system, where the job of the defensive front was to read what the offensive line was doing and what was happening in the backfield, and then fill the more vulnerable gap that they were responsible for.

In this system, however, each defender is responsible for just one gap, and in short, the responsibility of each player is much more simple: get upfield and be as disruptive as possible.

“I feel like just less things to have to think about,” added Gary. “Having a younger team. We have a lot of guys who can play fast but we just need them to not think so we cut off their brain a little bit and allow them to pin their ears back and go. I feel like up front that’s what they’re allowing us to do in this scheme.”

Overall, the Packers need more consistency from their pass rush unit in 2024. This was a group that ran very hot and cold last season.

While there were seven games where they pressured the quarterback on more than 45 percent of his dropbacks – which is excellent – there were also seven games where they had a pressure rate below 30 percent, and that’s the opposite of excellent.

On its own, Hafley’s defense should help with some of that heavy lifting when it comes to generating more pressures because of what it asks the defensive front to do. But another key element will be a fully healthy Gary, who was able to attack this offseason.

“I said it before, I’ll say it again,” said defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich, “he’s the best leader on our team. I mean, every day he comes to work, every day he’s encouraging. Any of you guys that have seen pre-practice when he’s out there, he’s constantly pulling somebody aside to talk to them. He’s the engine. He drives it. It’s what he does.

“So from a mentality standpoint, I don’t see any difference. Now, the good thing is, he’s had a full year of his injury that he’s come back from, and we’re taking it day by day just like anything else, and hopefully, we’re wishing for the best for him this upcoming season.”