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Healthy Nick Perry continues to 'kick some tail' for Packers' defense

In three games so far this season, Nick Perry has equaled his sack total (3.5) from all of last season. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike Daniels saw this coming from Nick Perry.

All he had to do was replay the two playoff games from last season, when he watched his Green Bay Packers defensive teammate turn in a 2.5-sack performance in the wild-card win over Washington followed by another sack in the divisional-round loss at Arizona.

While some probably wondered if Perry’s playoff success was a fluke -- after all, he had just 3.5 sacks all regular season last year -- Daniels and others with the Packers saw it as the beginning of something big.

“Oh yeah,” Daniels said. “Ooooooh yeah. And I’m happy for him.”

In three games so far this season, Perry has equaled his sack total from all of last season. Dating to the playoffs last year, Perry has seven sacks in his past five games.

It’s not just sacks, however. As a full-time starter for the first time while the Packers manage Julius Peppers' snap counts early in the season in order to keep him fresh for the long haul, Perry has helped defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit become the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense so far this season. Perry ranks third on the team in tackles, according to stats kept by the Packers' coaches.

“He’s healthy,” Daniels said. “There’s a reason they brought him in in the first round. He got a lot of criticism, but he’s finally healthy.”

Even last season, when he played in 14 games -- the second-most of his four-year career -- Perry missed two games because of a shoulder injury that dated to the 2014 season. The 28th overall pick in the 2012 draft missed 15 of a possible 32 regular-season games in his first two seasons.

In a sign of just how far Perry has come in the health department, the 26-year-old participated in the Packers’ offseason program for the first time since he came into the league in 2012. For a change, he wasn’t coming off surgery or in rehab for an injury.

“Nick’s off to his best start since he’s been here,” Capers said. “He’s been very physical on the run. He’s a big part of our run defense because he’s strong and he can really set the edge. As you saw [in the last game against the Lions], he ended up with two sacks. He’s rushing the passer well. We needed Nick to step up.”

It was a much-needed performance given that Capers was missing five key defensive players, including outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Datone Jones.

About the only thing Perry has done wrong was the throat-slash gesture he made after a tackle for loss in the first quarter against the Lions. It resulted in an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and a $12,154 fine. He described it as an “emotional play.”

“I don’t really know what I was doing out there,” Perry said. “It’s something you learn from, and just get down the road and you just don’t make mistakes like that again. But that’s about it. I made a mistake. I own it.”

It was a critical year for Perry, whose fifth-year option on his rookie contract was declined and he instead returned to Green Bay on a one-year, $5 million contract.

Those who have followed Perry’s career closely may still hold their breath that he can stay healthy. But not him. He has done nothing but look forward. And 3.5 sacks in three games may be a solid start. But it's just a start to him.

“Every week, I want to up the bar,” Perry said.

Said Daniels: “I always said, if Nick stays healthy, he’s going to kick some tail. You can see it. He finally looks comfortable out there. I’m excited for him, I’m happy for him and I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to grow, him being a close friend of mine. I just love seeing his progress. Nick’s got pride. You can see the work he’s putting in. I’ve said this before, he’s put a lot of work into his body and staying healthy, and you’re seeing the results of it.”