GREEN BAY – On Thursday afternoon, Rashan Gary will pack his bags and head out of Green Bay. With the Packers’ offseason workouts wrapped up and nothing on the calendar until July 27, the edge rusher will officially be on vacation … for four days.
“I’ll be back to work on Monday,” Gary said during open locker room this week.
These weeks between the end of OTAs and the start of training camp (veterans report July 26) are a final opportunity for players to relax in the absence of schedules and practices and tiring workouts. While many will maintain a workout and training regimen so as not to return out of shape, there’s also an understanding that this is summer break.
But not for Rashan Gary.
“People talk about wanting to be great, want to be the best,” Gary said. “There’s certain things you got to do. It’s a lifestyle. You can’t just say, ‘oh, I want to be good’ and don’t put in the work. Hard work pays off and I put in the work.”
It’s a lesson Gary learned from birth, as his mom and sister sacrificed to raise him. He only ever wanted to thank them for providing, so staying for an extra week of practices as the heat ramps up is a small price to pay.
“I’m just so thankful the organization just gave me a chance because all I wanted was to provide for them,” he said. “So I got that. I got that opportunity and chance and that’s all I wanted.”
This attitude, and subsequent self-imposed abbreviated vacation for the fourth-year player, helps explain why he was one of only a handful of starters in attendance for the last week of Packers voluntary OTAs. Gary, offensive linemen Jon Runyan, Josh Myers and Royce Newman, along with specialists Mason Crosby and Pat O’Donnell were the only starters who practiced. Other than Crosby and O’Donnell, Gary was the most veteran of those starters.
These workouts are not mandated and this week’s practices appearing on the calendar the week after mandatory minicamp is essentially like scheduling the week of classes after finals. Senioritis sets in and players take off early. But Gary, who has no workout bonus in his contract because he’s still on a rookie deal, stayed.
The reasoning, he said, was twofold. One, pass along the lessons to younger players that he received from Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Marcedes Lewis, among others. Two, in conjunction with that, remember that championships belong in Green Bay.
“You got to realize, we wear this helmet for the players before it,” Gary said. “This is a historical organization. And I want the players to know that, because I had to go respect and do my history on Green Bay and I feel like the more history and the more you dig into it, the more that you have respect for this team and organization and all that plays into that.
“So that’s just my No. 1 thing, man: We’re here to bring … we’re the championship team. We’ve been here three years in a row, playoffs, we right there. (There’s) something that we missing so we all got to come together and that’s just what I’m focused on.
“(We) got a lot of young pieces here. I just want to make sure that they know the importance of, we’re building a championship team. You don’t have time to correct things, you got to hit it full speed.”
Gary went on to mention a championship team in search of a Super Bowl several more times, to the point he sounded like a lifer and local with a destiny to bring back a trophy; as opposed to the fourth-year Michigan native he is. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact this defense could carry the Packers to a Super Bowl this season. And with a retooled pass-rushing unit, Gary knows he can be at the forefront of that goal.
“My No. 1 thing is getting us to that division championship, winning, going to the Super Bowl,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We’ve been there three years in a row, we got all the pieces. It’s just about, you know, putting it all together.”
In his third year, with Za’Darius Smith out for most of the season, Gary ascended. He started 16 games, finished with 47 total tackles, 28 quarterback hits (seventh in the NFL), two forced fumbles and 9.5 sacks. And against the San Francisco 49ers, in the NFC divisional playoff game, Gary had four tackles (three for loss), three quarterback hits and two sacks.
Yet that’s not why he has rewatched the tape of that game so much.
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“I probably watched it over 20 times, you know, trying to find ways that we could have won,” Gary said. “That just tells you football is football. Sixty minutes is crazy. So you got to go as hard as you can for 60 minutes. But yeah, I’ve watched it over 20 times, which just made me hungry.”
With the way this linebacker corps has been built for the upcoming season, there’s a decent chance Gary will be able to feast. Rookie Quay Walker could legitimately see early playing time, Preston Smith returns and the Packers added defensive tackle Jarran Reed to help clear the way.
“Just knowing our capabilities as a unit and just flashes going through mandatory minicamp and some of the OTAs that we had a chance to rush together, it’s going to be scary,” Gary said. “So once we get our communication down, we’ re all on the same page, it’s going to be good.”
If this Packers linebacker unit lives up to its ability, Gary will likely have another standout year. But that’s not why he toiled through the final week of OTAs.
“I want to be the best of my position,” Gary said. “(But) my No. 1 thing is bringing a ring back. So I’m not really into all that, how people are looking at me. I’m (doing) whatever I got to do for this team so we could come back with a ring.”