GREEN BAY – An extended visit to Arizona State can teach an Ohio native quite a bit, apparently.
“I had never heard of water polo or even seen it until I got there,” Packers outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott said.
In all seriousness, though, Elliott’s three-week externship earlier this offseason in the Arizona State athletic department was an eye-opener to the business side of sports.
Elliott is getting back to his usual business now, just a week away from the start of the Packers’ offseason workouts on April 18. The third-year pass rusher and special-teamer has been working out in Green Bay and sat down with packers.com on Monday to talk about his eventful offseason and his upcoming year.
Elliott got the educational opportunity at Arizona State through the NFL Players’ Association and the Packers’ director of player engagement, Rob Davis. Along with Saints tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, Elliott shadowed Ray Anderson, ASU’s vice president for university athletics, and Scottie Graham, senior associate athletics director, sitting in on meetings that covered everything from ticket sales to alumni events to social media.
Anderson is the NFL’s former executive vice president of football operations and Graham is a former NFL running back, so their perspective on a post-NFL career path was valuable. Elliott gained knowledge and developed connections that he can tap into down the road.
“It gave me a learning experience to get ready for life after football one day,” he said. “Hopefully that’s nowhere near soon, but it’s always good to prepare for it.”
Elliott’s entire focus now is on preparing his third season in Green Bay. The University of Toledo alum who made the roster back in 2014 as an undrafted rookie is entering a big year.
At the moment, he has moved up a slot on the depth chart at outside linebacker with free agent Mike Neal not being re-signed. Then again, Clay Matthews is expected to move back outside full-time and the Packers are likely to add another pass rusher or two in the draft, so the competition for playing time on defense promises to be fierce.
Elliott appeared headed for a breakout season in 2015 early on. He intercepted a pass and forced a fumble on back-to-back Seattle possessions in the fourth quarter to seal a key victory in Week 2. He followed that up the next two weeks with sacks in consecutive games against the Chiefs and 49ers.
Soon thereafter, though, a quad injury flared up and slowed his progress. Even though he wasn’t sidelined until Week 15 in Oakland, eventually missing three full games, his snaps on defense dwindled, and he never built on his strong start to the year.
“One thing I’ve always struggled with is consistency,” Elliott said. “I have to get myself stronger. I have to get ready to play whatever is needed.”
He’s also not chalking up the frustrating injury to bad luck. Elliott feels he could have avoided the quad problem by stretching and hydrating better, and missing a chunk of games for the first time in his career is motivating him to take nothing for granted health-wise.
“Getting more sleep at night, eating healthier, staying away from Sour Patch Kids,” he said with his usual smile and soft-spoken manner. “Football is a rough sport and you have to take care of your body to get over that hump.”
Elliott’s role as one of the Packers’ special-teams leaders isn’t likely to change. As a rookie, he finished second on the team in coverage tackles with 15, and he added a team-high six more in the two playoff games. Last year, he was still third on the squad with 11 tackles despite the injury limitations.
Unlike a lot of young players who enter the NFL as college stars, Elliott had actually played a lot of special teams at Toledo, so learning that phase of the pro game came rapidly to him.
He’s proven to be a fairly quick study at outside linebacker, too, since leading the NFL with five sacks in his rookie preseason. On defense, it’s all about finding that same consistent rhythm he has on special teams, and earning more opportunities for snaps.
“I take a lot of pride in special teams because that’s one of the reasons I made this team, and one of the reasons I will continue to try to make this team,” he said.
“I’m just excited. It’s year three. I’m blessed to be in this position. I want to try to learn as much as I can, continue to learn from guys like Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. I look forward to it.”