GREEN BAY – The fans want Jake Ryan to start at inside linebacker for the Packers from day one.
Forgive the fourth-round draft pick from Michigan if he’s going to take things a little slower than that.
“I’m just trying to learn the defense, get to know the guys and compete every single day in practice,” Ryan said after his first rookie orientation workout last week. “I’m just taking it step by step.”
It’s probably in Ryan’s best interests to block out the fans’ expectations. With three veterans at his position departing this offseason, fans were in near-panic mode when the Packers didn’t address inside linebacker in the first three rounds of the draft.
As a result, it’s as though Ryan is the new Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the first-round pick a year ago from Alabama viewed as the savior at safety.
Ryan was making no such proclamations on his first weekend in the NFL. For one, he seems too humble and grounded to do such a thing. For another, he has no desire to be distracted by depth charts and social media discussions.
His focus is on the basics, and the basics are in the playbook.
“Right when I got it, I started studying at the hotel,” Ryan said.
He’s not ignorant of the opportunity in front of him, of course. Inside linebacker was in flux for the Packers all last season, with Clay Matthews moving there at midseason and Sam Barrington cracking the starting lineup down the stretch as well.
General Manager Ted Thompson used the word “pedigree” in describing what he liked about Ryan. He comes to the Packers having started 41 college games at Michigan, overcoming an ACL injury along the way.
For his final college season, he made the transition from strong side to middle linebacker smoothly, drawing upon the extensive knowledge he had of the Wolverines’ defense to step into a new spot.
He doesn’t have as much time to build that foundation in Dom Capers’ defense, but he’s going to give it his best shot. After the two rookie orientation practices this past weekend, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Ryan looks “natural” inside in Capers’ scheme.
“He’s bigger than I thought he was,” McCarthy said of the 6-2, 240-pounder. “He’s picked it up clean, making the calls out there. He’s very assertive, so I think he’s off to a good start.”
While fans might take that comment to mean they can change Ryan’s name from pencil to pen in their starting lineup for Week 1 at Chicago, Ryan was just happy to be in the middle of 22 guys again after months of 40-yard dashes, bench presses, shuttle-cone drills and long jumps.
“Getting back on the field, it feels like it’s been a while since I was actually playing football,” he said. “It’s fun to get back out there and actually compete.”
Step by step. One thing at a time. Basics first, build from there. That seems to be Jake Ryan’s way, and it should serve him well.
“You can’t feel the pressure,” he said. “You have to go in every single day, work as hard as you can, learn the playbook, learn everything, ask questions. So that’s what I’m doing right now.”