GREEN BAY — There have been highs and there have been lows, but confidence always has been the one constant in Nick Perry’s first five NFL seasons.
Despite a rash of injuries early in his career, the Packers’ linebacker never lost hope that one day his luck would turn and his ability could take over.
Perry’s career has been peppered with glimpses of greatness, but each time he seemed to take a step forward, a setback closely followed.
Regardless of what he was fighting through, Perry’s approached stayed the same – when he’s on the field, he wants to be unstoppable.
“That’s the mentality that I have going into a game,” Perry said. “I look for competition. I look for it. I invite it. I feel like that’s what’s going to bring the best out of me. That’s my approach each week.”
Finally, that patience and perseverance has started to pay dividends this season with Perry off to the best start of his career with 17 tackles and 4½ sacks through four games.
Perry has recorded at least ½ sack in each of the Packers’ games this season. His 4½ sacks this season are tied for seventh in the league despite the Packers having the early bye.
Meanwhile, his 194 defensive snaps lead Green Bay’s outside linebackers, a fitting honor for a former first-round pick who has endured a string of bad luck since the Packers drafted him in 2012.
First, a combination of knee, wrist and foot injuries sidelined him for 15 of his first 32 regular-season games. He missed only one game in 2014, but fought through a shoulder injury for most of the year that required offseason surgery.
It wasn’t until the final month of the 2015 season that Perry felt close to 100 percent. Even then, he was playing with a club-like padding on his right hand due to a broken finger.
Perry re-signed with the Packers this offseason on the heels of a breakthrough performance in the playoffs when he recorded eight tackles, 3½ sacks and a forced fumble in two games.
After taking part in his first offseason program in Green Bay, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound linebacker is producing at the high level the Packers always knew he was capable of.
“Personally I think it’s health because Nick has always been a force when he’s been given opportunities,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s in a routine and he’s a primary player in our front, and now with that you look at his snaps, his playtime, and obviously where he is in his career. He totally understands his position.”
Perry, 26, has never used injuries as an excuse even when it was obvious to teammates the type of pain he played through at various points in his career.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has spoken highly of Perry throughout his time in Green Bay, praised the linebacker following Sunday’s 23-16 win over the New York Giants in which Perry recorded a late sack of Eli Manning.
Rodgers used the word “dominant” to describe Perry’s performance at times, which is exactly what the pass-rusher is looking to achieve each time he takes the field.
It isn’t just the sacks with Perry, though. While his pass-rushing opportunities have increased, he’s arguably been the Packers’ best outside run-defender for the past three seasons.
Known for his strength and bull rush, Perry’s power has contributed to the Packers leading the NFL in run defense so far this season. It’s provided a perfect complement to what Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones bring to the rotation.
“It focuses in on what other plays they can run. It narrows things down for us,” Perry said. “When you have guys like me, Clay and ‘Pep,’ Datone, all of us who can present those problems on the edge, it makes it hard for teams to run outside. We’re going to continue to do what we know how to do.”
Perry’s job won’t get any easier this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, who have what’s considered one of the league’s top offensive lines with three-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith and Doug Free serving as the bookends of the unit.
Still, he welcomes the challenge.
Perry knows four games don’t make a season and fast starts are only as good as what you do with them, but he’d be lying if he said it doesn’t feel good to be making an impact.
After waiting so long to show what he can do when healthy, the past month has provided some vindication for the confidence he’s always had in his ability.
“I’ve always known that if I just continue to play football that things would happen,” Perry said. “I’ve caught some bad breaks. As long as I’m able to play the game, I still have opportunities to make the best situation that I can make out of it.
“Never really any doubts or anything. It always was just a matter of when everything would click. Things are looking good right now.”