GREEN BAY – If the proverbial light bulb went on for Dean Lowry in the first December game of his rookie season, it got noticeably brighter the following week.
A fourth-round draft pick getting a handful of snaps on the defensive line here and there most of last year, Lowry suddenly showed up big in Week 13 vs. Houston.
He powered through two blockers to bring down QB Brock Osweiler for his first NFL sack. Three defensive series later, he got into the backfield again and batted down an Osweiler pass.
The impact provided a boost to both his confidence and his playing time, and one week later against Seattle, he played his best game. Involved in a season-high 34 defensive snaps, he recorded four tackles, including his second career sack, this time of a scrambling Russell Wilson.
If those two performances are any indication of what’s to come for the 6-6, 296-pounder from Northwestern, the Packers’ defense should have much more than just another rotational player in 2017.
“That Seattle game really showed I could play out there,” Lowry said, when asked for his top rookie moment as the Packers’ wrapped up their offseason program earlier this month. “I got a lot of good reps that game, some good pass-rush reps out there. I got my second sack that game.”
The late-season surge was typical for a rookie with physical tools like Lowry. It was reaching another stage mentally the week before, in the Texans game, that made the difference.
“I think I just relaxed out there,” he said. “I knew I could play, I got my technique right, and I just made plays. (I realized) it’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old. It’s just a lot of guys are much bigger and stronger.”
Lowry is plenty big and strong, and he’s added around five pounds for Year 2. He’s also much more accustomed to life in the NFL trenches.
He lined up mostly on the edge in college in racking up 12½ career sacks in the Big Ten. The Packers wanted to add interior duty to his resume, and it took some time to adjust.
“At first, it was tough, because it’s a lot more physical,” he said. “Every play, you’re getting hit by two guys almost.
“It’s a quicker game inside. It’s more important to have good footwork, better hands. After a while, I improved that way in practice, and once I had that opportunity in the game, it paid off.”
Lowry’s speed and quickness for a 300-pounder is a huge asset, and playing inside now feels “normal” to him. Adding that to his skills at end has set him up to help the Packers in multiple ways this season, almost anywhere along the defensive front.
“He has the mental capacity to pick up a lot of different things, and he really wants to be good,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “He came in here like you would hope a second-year guy that had a little bit of success. You would hope he’d come back with that kind of attitude, and he’s been excellent.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy complimented Lowry’s smarts, awareness and instincts this spring, but Lowry is the first to admit whatever instincts he’s shown aren’t natural in the sense of the traditional definition.
He’s put in the time in the film room, learning the pro game, in order to react snap after snap more readily.
“You have to have that film study,” he said. “You have to study the game and be a student of everything you do in this building.
“I think my instincts have taken off this year, and it allows you to play faster, it allows you to recognize formations, to expect certain things, and you just go out there and play.”
It’s up to Lowry just how bright his future might be, but there’s also no time to wait for the bulb to come on again. It has to be lit from the get-go in Week 1 which, coincidentally, will be against the Seahawks.
“More expectations,” Lowry said of the difference for him heading into his second season. “Year 1, I started off slow and came on the second half of the year.
“I’m trying to build off that momentum, playing in big-time games and using that experience to propel me into this year.”