GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers' defense needs someone to step up behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry at outside linebacker.
Reggie Gilbert is starting to make his move. After a strong showing during the team's preseason-opening victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, Gilbert got extensive work with the starting defense in practice Sunday, the first time the team was back on the field.
Gilbert lined up at outside linebacker in the base defense opposite Matthews, as Perry remains on the physically unable to perform list with an ankle injury. Until Sunday, Kyler Fackrell had gotten nearly all of those first-team snaps with Matthews in Perry's place.
Gilbert, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona in 2016, spent most of the past two years on the Packers' practice squad before a call-up to the 53-man roster for the final two games last year.
Facing Minnesota and Detroit, Gilbert registered four quarterback pressures and three quarterback hits on the Vikings' Case Keenum and earned his first NFL sack against the Lions' Matthew Stafford.
"I feel like I've come a long way since I got here and am definitely improving. I feel like I'm improving with every session we get as far as in practice or every year in every game," said Gilbert, who was a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in college and had to learn to be a standup outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. "I feel like I'm learning new things. Clay, Nick and everybody, they're all helping bring us along."
Despite unproven depth behind Matthews and Perry — and the two veterans' history of injuries — the Packers eschewed signing any edge rushers in free agency and didn't spend any of their high draft picks on the position, either. The only draft choice at outside linebacker was seventh-rounder Kendall Donnerson from Southeast Missouri State.
During the offseason, Packers coach Mike McCarthy raved about Gilbert, saying in part: "It's incredible what he's done in his time here. You talk about a guy that has done everything and has taken advantage of every resource that's been available to him. I mean, in my mind he's already taken the second-year jump."
With Matthews sitting for the preseason opener, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Gilbert was credited with two tackles and a quarterback hit against the Titans, and he generated the most pressure of any Packers rusher while playing the entire first half. Fackrell also started and was credited with a sack when he was in the vicinity as Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota scrambled out of bounds for no gain on the opening drive.
"We're all hungry. We're all working hard trying to make plays. I definitely feel like all of us have come a long way and are still improving," Gilbert said.
NOTES: After facing the Titans without 18 players who didn't suit up for the game, the Packers got back some of their injured guys on Sunday, including All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (ankle); tight end Jimmy Graham (knee); wide receiver Randall Cobb (ankle); cornerbacks Kevin King (shoulder) and Jaire Alexander (groin); running back Aaron Jones (hamstring); and defensive linemen Mike Daniels (quad) and Muhammad Wilkerson (groin). Bakhtiari, King and Daniels only did individual drills and were held out of team periods. . Bakhtiari said the limited work was encouraging. "(We) just wanted to see the progression. Obviously they want to integrate me back in — don't want to just throw me in right away — but everything felt good."