As the Green Bay Packers await the start of their 2015 training camp, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliot is setting the bar sky high. “Pro Bowl for special teams,” Elliott told Ryan Wood of Press-Gazette Media on Wednesday. After a season that saw the Green Bay Packers grounded by a steady stream of special teams blunders, culminating in their NFC Championship loss, this should be music to the ears of Mike McCarthy.
You’ll remember Elliot as the superstar of 2014’s training camp. The undrafted free agent out of Toledo recorded five preseason sacks, including three in just four plays against the St. Louis Rams. This earned him the nickname of “Shakespeare” as Elliot was always making plays, but the success did not carry over into the regular season.
These early chapters of Elliot’s career offer a lesson on the stock we should put into offseason and preseason standouts, but his realistic approach to year two is encouraging. Stuck behind Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal on the depth chart, Elliot realizes that he needs to find a new avenue for impacting games.
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“There’s only 11 guys on defense,” Elliott said. “When you have third down, come on. Clay’s going to be out there rushing, Peppers is going to be out there rushing, Mike Neal is going to be out there rushing,” Elliot tells Wood. “So I just go out there on fourth down and help the team out. I’m just trying to go out and do whatever I can to help the team win.”
This is on the other end of the spectrum from tight end Andrew Quarless, who expects himself to enter the Rob Gronkowski conversation in 2015, and that’s just fine. There’s room for lofty goals and large personalities, but a dedicated role player like Elliot will strengthen Green Bay’s weakest unit which has undergone sweeping changes over the past four months.
Shawn Slocum has been replaced by Ron Zook as the special teams coordinator, and Mike McCarthy will play a heavier role in the unit as he takes a more overarching position in the organization. Excluding fifth round quarterback Brett Hundley, every player selected by the Packers in the 2015 NFL Draft has special teams potential in year one.
Unit ace Jarrett Bush won’t be returning, either, so the door is cracked open for Elliot. At 6’3″, 255 pounds with a gargantuan 82″ wingspan, his ability to rumble downfield quickly and with force could put him in premium playmaking positions.
While Elliot is setting his focus on special teams, he hasn’t forgotten about the other three downs entirely. In that phase, he’s turned to old game tape of teammate Clay Matthews to help him get over the hump.
“Clay was wild,” Elliott told Ryan Wood. “He’d throw his body around, fly around out there, just an Energizer bunny.” Elliot hopes to extract some lessons from Matthews’ rookie and second-year film, and has been dedicating three hours daily to the project, five days a week.
Julius Peppers is firmly rooted across from Matthews for this season, but following that, there is little certainty regarding the Packers’ starting outside linebacker in 2016. Both Mike Neal and Nick Perry have flashed, but neither bring the “wow” factor necessary to draw blockers away from Matthews consistently on the other side.
That still exists as the long-term goal for Elliot, but in 2015, it’s all about fourth down. Shakespeare may need to wait for the grander stage, but his contributions within this defined role could have impacts well past the story of the stat sheet.
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