GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Say this much for Nick Perry: At least now he looks like an outside linebacker.
When he came to training camp a year ago, he still had the body of a defensive end.
Now in his second season with the Green Bay Packers, the 2012 first-round draft pick says he has a better understanding of what it takes to play outside linebacker even though doubts remain whether that’s the position he’s best suited to play in the NFL.
Perry wasn’t able to answer those doubts last season because he played just six games before knee and wrist injuries ended his rookie season.
A defensive end in college at USC, the 6-foot-3 Perry weighed 271 pounds at the combine and was used to playing with his hand on the ground.
Now at 260 pounds and looking leaner, Perry believes he is better conditioned to play outside linebacker even though he’s still the heaviest player the Packers have at that position, with five pounds on Clay Matthews.
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said recently. “At USC, he had his hand down rushing. You’re asking a lot of a guy -- you think about last year, we bring him in here and he had never done any of this stuff and we stick him out there and start him against San Francisco in the opener.
“You’re learning on the run, and that’s hard in this league. Unfortunately, he hurt that wrist and had surgery, but he’s looked a lot more comfortable to me throughout the offseason and through training camp than he did at any time last year.”
Last year, Perry had basically one pass-rush move, a bull rush. During a practice this week, Perry showed off a spin move he’s been working on and beat tackle Marshall Newhouse during the one-on-one pass-rushing drill. He has a 3-6 record in that drill so far in camp.
“It’s always been there,” Perry said of his spin move. “It’s just a chess game out there, and you have to play your cards right when you’re out there on the field. You just can’t telegraph a move and expect it to just happen, so I want to establish the strength, the bull rush and work moves off of that.”
Perry had two sacks in six games last season. But, as Perry has learned in making the position switch, pass rushing isn’t the only job of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He must hold contain in the running game and also drop into pass coverage. He’s had at least one interception so far during training camp practices.
“I’m one year better just seeing some things over and over again,” Perry said. “You start to get familiar with it so things become second nature and you play faster and you play smarter. You see things that you’ve never seen before. You see the bigger picture as opposed to playing defensive end and just putting my hand on the ground and rushing.”
For now, Perry is playing with a protective brace on his left wrist. Last season, he tried to play with the wrist injury he sustained in Week 2 against Chicago but when he hurt his knee a month later, Perry had his wrist examined again and at that point he decided to have surgery to repair a ligament in his wrist.
“I feel pretty good where I’m at,” Perry said. “I played in some games last year. I’ve learned the role. I’ve learned what it takes to excel at this level. I’m fitting right in and doing what I can to make sure I’m healthy and staying out there on the field.”