GREEN BAY – Last year was supposed to be the year it all came together for Jayrone Elliott.
The former undrafted outside linebacker from Toledo was coming off a three-sack, one-interception season in 2015, developing into a leader on special teams, and learning from top pass-rushers such as Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Julius Peppers.
But a hamstring injury late in training camp forced him to miss the first two games of 2016, and he never seemed to find his footing.
He still led the squad in special-teams tackles, reaching double digits for the third straight year, but he recorded just one sack. Then a hand injury in December held him out of the final two regular-season and first two postseason contests.
Nothing seemed to go as planned, but one thing disappointed Elliott the most. He confessed he wasn’t “as locked in” as he should have been. In essence, he let those top pass-rushers relegate him to his place on the defensive depth chart rather than push him to fight for more snaps.
“Knowing you had such powerful guys in front of you, you know how things are going to play out, and I didn’t give myself a fair chance, mentally,” Elliott said as the Packers wrapped up the offseason program earlier this month. “I’m looking forward to learning from that, growing from that, and trying to be the best leader I can.
“Because I know what I can do on special teams. It’s time to show everybody what I can do on defense, and I’m looking forward to the task at hand.”
Opportunity is certainly knocking for Elliott, who re-signed with the Packers as a restricted free agent for 2017.
Peppers and Datone Jones are gone, so the pecking order behind Matthews and Perry at outside linebacker is wide open. Elliott, 2016 third-round pick Kyler Fackrell, 2017 fourth-round pick Vince Biegel, and practice-squad holdover Reggie Gilbert will be looking to establish their place during training camp and the preseason.
Elliott has by far the most experience of them all, and he plans to use that to his advantage. It isn’t always easy to find a rhythm as a pass-rusher getting only spot snaps rather than consistent reps, but he’s learned over the years what it takes.
“It comes with film work. You have to put in the extra work in the film room and try to learn the (QB’s) mechanics and mannerisms,” Elliott said. “It’s a little easier for us because we have one of the greatest in the game, A-Rod. He tests us daily with the snap count, makes us show our disguises and what not.”
As he fights for more playing time on defense, Elliott has no desire to neglect special teams. He’s the guy a lot of young players come to with questions, things he says are “common sense” to him now after three years in the league.
He mentioned linebacker Joe Thomas, receiver Jeff Janis and cornerback Demetri Goodson as teammates he entered the league with in 2014 who all take the same pride in special-teams work and feed off of one another in that phase of the game.
“It’s just attitude and effort for me,” Elliott said.
Now is the time to apply that same attitude and effort on defense. Staying healthy is job one.
Beyond that, there’s no more room for regrets.
“I had this situation in the past, and I didn’t capitalize,” Elliott said. “It’s something I can learn from. I’ll just go out there and be aggressive, try to leave it all out there. You never know what would have happened.
“This is my fourth year. I’ve been here three years, but I’m still out there on a one-year deal. I’m still trying to go out there and compete, earn my spot on this team, and show I’m worth it.”