Covering new ground: Packers' Nick Perry going through OTAs for first time

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It’s almost unfathomable that a former first-round draft pick who is entering his fifth NFL season could be going through the Green Bay Packers' offseason program in full for the first time.

Except when you consider that it’s Nick Perry.

It’s been one injury after another for the 28th pick in the 2012 draft. He missed all of the 2013 offseason after his rookie year following wrist surgery, all of the 2014 offseason because of a foot injury and all of last offseason after shoulder surgery.

In four years, he missed more than a full season’s worth of games -- 18 out of a possible 64 in the regular season, including two last year. Finally healthy -- or at least as healthy as he’s been -- in the playoffs last season, he posted 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in two postseason games to match his totals in both categories from the regular season.

It was enough to convince the Packers to take another look. Less than a year after they declined the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, they made a $5 million investment in him this offseason but only for one year. And general manager Ted Thompson protected the team by putting 20 percent of the total value of the deal in per-game roster bonuses and another $250,000 in incentives based on playing time.

“Nick has proven that when he’s healthy and he’s on the field, he’s a true threat to offense, especially in the pass rush,” Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Not only in the pass rush, but in the run game as well he’s a huge factor. I think he’d be the first to admit that injuries have limited his ability. It’s a good deal for him. He’s got a one-year deal, kind of a prove-it deal, and we’d like to think if he can stay healthy he has a legitimate shot to be well taken care of.”

Matthews is right, Perry will admit as much.

“I’ve always felt like my injuries have limited me in some regard,” said Perry, who converted from a college defensive end to an NFL outside linebacker. “I’ve always known my capabilities when I’m healthy, and I think I’m in a good place to remain that way and take off to where I really need to be and where I’m really trying to go.”

His presence on the field in the offseason program is a start. With Matthews absent from Monday's OTA, Perry joined Julius Peppers as the two outside linebackers with the No. 1 defense.

“Nick Perry looks great,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “If you think about it, this is his first time to go through an offseason without dealing with an injury. And I think his conditioning, his strength levels, everything, the way he’s moving reflects that. Nick so far has had an excellent offseason. He’s been here the whole time.”

That includes the time between the end of last season and the start of the offseason program in April.

“This year was an opportunity for me to be healthy and to train in the offseason,” Perry said. “Most of the offseasons that I’ve had, I was in rehab. This year was a little different because I didn’t have to get any surgeries or go to rehab, so this was pretty much a new chapter for me to be able to work out in the offseason and improve and get better off of what I did last year. We’re just taking another step forward now and getting better.”

Thompson essentially chose Perry over Mike Neal, the Packers’ other free-agent outside linebacker this offseason. Neal remains unsigned. The clincher may have been Perry’s postseason performance, which included 2.5 sacks against Washington in the wild-card win, when he manhandled Trent Williams -- the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL.

“I was just getting healthier and being able to showcase what I can do when I am healthy,” Perry said of his playoff performance. “It’s the past now. We’ve got a lot more of that to come.”