Packers pick USC LB Nick Perry in 1st round

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - Soon after he was drafted Thursday night, Nick Perry received a congratulatory message from Clay Matthews - his former college teammate at USC, and his new teammate with the Green Bay Packers.

If everything works out according to the Packers' plan, Perry and Matthews will spend plenty of time exchanging congratulations in opposing offensive backfields next season.

Perry got to know Matthews as a freshman at USC and is looking forward to the reunion.

"Since then we've been boys," Perry said of Matthews. "I'll be drafted to be across from him just to create problems like he did."

The Packers made a move to boost their pass rush in Thursday's first round of the NFL draft, taking Perry with the No. 28 overall pick. At 6-2 and 271 pounds, Perry will play outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. That could make him a complement to fellow former Trojan Matthews, something the team has lacked in recent seasons.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said being able to get pass rush pressure from both sides is critical.

"It means a great deal," Capers said. "I think the basis of our defense starts with being able to threaten offenses from both sides. You see us do a lot of things with our inside linebackers and a lot of their success is based on the type of threat that you have, I think, from both sides of your defense."

Perry had 21.5 career sacks in three seasons.

"At the end of the day, we thought he'd make a really good addition to our outside linebacker group," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "He's played with his hand on the ground, but we're convinced that he's athletic enough to play standing up and do some of the things that we do."

Green Bay gave up an NFL-worst 411.6 yards per game last season and allowed 80 plays of 20-plus yards, third-worst in the league. The Packers had 29 sacks; only two teams had fewer.

One of Perry's defining traits as a player is his explosive speed. According to a scouting report distributed by the Packers, Perry ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. Capers said he has a 38.5-inch vertical leap.

Perry redshirted as a freshman and played three seasons for the Trojans, piling up 29.5 tackles for losses. He also caused five fumbles in the past two seasons.

After starting out as a weak-side linebacker, Perry got most of his playing time as a strong-side defensive end in USC's scheme. But he lacks the size of a prototypical 3-4 defensive end and his speed would be best utilized at outside linebacker in Capers' scheme - even if that means teaching him how to drop into pass coverage.

"It'll be a little bit of a transition," Capers said. "He's played with his hand down more than he has standing up. But that's not uncommon for us in this defense. One of the qualities that we look for, the first things, is the guy's ability to rush the passer and we think he's a guy that has the speed to come off the corner and certainly has the size and the power where he can convert that from speed into power in terms of rushing the passer."

Perry had expressed some reservations about making the move to outside linebacker in the run-up to the draft, but said Thursday that he's ready for it.

"It's here," Perry said. "I can't control it. It's something that I love doing, I love playing football and I'm here to do whatever it takes to compete. Whatever I can do to help the team, I'm here for that."

Before the draft began, the Packers had made a pair of tough decisions this week, releasing veteran left tackle Chad Clifton and safety Nick Collins - two core members of their team. Clifton had an injury-riddled 2011 season and Collins is coming off a season-ending neck injury.

Given Collins' departure, the Packers certainly could stand to come away from the draft with some safety help, and the division rival Vikings took Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith one pick after Green Bay's.

Still, outside linebacker might have been the Packers' most pressing need.

"It wasn't a `need' pick so much," Thompson said. "This was a guy that we had targeted, and we felt like he could come in and contribute."

Another player the Packers were linked to in pre-draft speculation, Boise State's Shea McClellin, went to the division rival Chicago Bears with the No. 19 overall pick.

Green Bay also has a need at defensive end, where the Packers never found a suitable replacement for departed free agent defensive end Cullen Jenkins last year. Thompson signed free agent Anthony Hargrove, but the Packers will be without oft-injured Mike Neal for the first four games of the 2012 regular season for a violation of the NFL's drug policy.

Perry, meanwhile, likely won over some Packers fans when asked what first came to his mind when he thought of Green Bay.

"Super Bowls," Perry said.

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