Patience pays off: Kyler Fackrell hits his stride for Packers in Year 3
GREEN BAY — The criticism just kept coming. Day after day, they questioned him, asking when it was going to happen. Kyler Fackrell couldn’t take it anymore. They were relentless.
No, no, not the Green Bay Packers fans wondering when the 2016 third-round pick would develop into a consistent contributor on defense. The pressure was coming from his fellow outside linebackers — Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Reggie Gilbert — grilling him about his lack of a signature sack celebration.
“I always get (a hard time) from Clay and the guys in the outside linebacker room for not having any kind of celebration,” Fackrell said when asked where his blowing-kisses celebration comes from. “So I finally came up with that.”
It’s a celebration Matthews and Packers fans have seen a lot this season, with Fackrell having registered a team-high eight sacks on the strength of a pair of three-sack games (against Buffalo in Week 4 and at Seattle last week). The post-sack pantomime consists of three kisses — one for wife, Liz, one each for the couple’s two daughters, 3-year-old Delaney and 1-year-old Lucy.
“I wasn’t, like, actively thinking about it, but it just occurred to me one day,” Fackrell said.
His success this season might seem similarly out of the blue, but to the Packers coaching staff, it’s not entirely surprising. After contributing primarily on special teams his first two seasons and registering five sacks in 607 snaps over those two years, the Packers kept Fackrell as their No. 3 outside linebacker behind Matthews and Perry on the strength of his 1½ sacks in preseason and the belief that their patience with him would pay off.
“The production clearly has taken off the year. (But) everybody’s path’s different,” coach Mike McCarthy said as the Packers prepared for Sunday night’s game against Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium. “He first needs opportunities. He’s getting more opportunities this year. He’s being asked to do more, so I think that’s a credit to his work ethic and just staying the course. There’s some new things they’re doing schematically up there, but at the end of the day I think it’s more about his growth as a player. If you look at his time, he’s improved every year.”
Asked if it’s been difficult to be patient with Fackrell in a win-now league, McCarthy replied: “You like to see things in their second year, but part of it, too, is where’d they come from? I think in Kyler’s situation, (he) was always moving up. I don’t think it’s too long (to wait). I know the league’s a lot younger today than it was 10 years ago, but I think three years is a pretty practical timeline.”
Said Matthews: “I love to see when Kyler makes plays because he obviously gets a bad rap around here. But specifically with what they’re asking outside linebackers to do, ‘Fack’ is a great complement to what they’re asking me to do. I know when he gets in there, he can run (in coverage) and play man on the tight end or the back coming out of the backfield, or run stunts or blitzes, or come off the edge and be productive.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who watched every one of Fackrell’s 447 defensive snaps last season after taking the job in January, pointed to several factors in Fackrell’s emergence: Reshaping his body through the strength and conditioning program to boost his “explosiveness;” improved fundamentals resulting from how Fackrell “works his craft”; and extensive preparation that has shown him to be “a real student” of upcoming opponents.
But the biggest difference, Pettine said, is Fackrell’s newfound belief in himself.
“I just think the confidence has really helped him,” Pettine said, “I think that (Buffalo game) was kind of the breakthrough moment for him. You could see him carry himself a little bit differently after that. At any position, I think when you’re confident that’s going to help you.”
“Just going back and watching all of 2017, you saw some glimpses here and there but it was inconsistent. I saw what everybody else saw. But I also saw a guy that was willing, that had the frame — I think he’s got good length, and just the build for it — and he moves well. That was evident. (But) I think the big part of it is, once you get comfortable and confident in the system, you don’t have to think your way through plays.”
Asked if in his experience most players are what they are by Year 3, Pettine replied: “I don’t know if it’s that unusual (how Fackrell has come on). It’s probably more of the exception than the norm, though. Usually, if a guy has it, that production shows early. But (some) guys just take time to get used to the speed of the game and how to approach it. It’s just taken time for all that to click in. Obviously, you’re seeing the results.”
For his part, Fackrell said he hasn’t altered his approach one bit. He doesn’t have any social media accounts — though Liz and his mother, Lori, do — so he said he was largely unaware of any frustration fans were feeling with his methodical progress. And now that he’s getting results, he has no intention of changing.
“It’s very gratifying, no matter what has been happening (before this),” Fackrell said. “I think the only way to really approach being a professional football player is just to put your head down and work and not worry about the outside stuff. It’s a pretty cliché thing to say, but it’s hard to do sometimes, you know?
“You go through stretches where things aren’t going your way or whatever. I just try to take the mentality of, try to come to work the same way every day and it’ll all work itself out.”
The Packers ruled Perry (knee) and defensive lineman Mike Daniels (foot) out for Sunday night. Daniels, who injured his foot at Seattle and was using a scooter and crutches Friday, said he did not undergo surgery and that nothing is broken but said he’s not expecting to travel to Minneapolis and acknowledged he might be headed for injured reserve. He also didn’t know how serious the injury was at first. “I just thought I tweaked it. I hopped off to the sideline – that’s not the first time I limped off to the sideline before, and after I got checked, I tried to stand up but couldn’t,” Daniels said. “That’s when I knew it was pretty serious.” … Wide receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring) and three defensive backs who are part of the regular rotation — cornerback Kevin King (hamstring), safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin) — were listed as questionable. According to the team, Cobb and King would have been limited participants had the club practiced Friday, while Brice and Breeland would have sat out. … Tight end Jimmy Graham (thumb) is officially questionable but coach Mike McCarthy said Graham caught the ball well during Thursday’s practice despite a bulky wrap on his broken thumb. “I thought he looked good. He caught the ball fine,” McCarthy said. “I have no reason to believe (he’ll be limited against the Vikings). But we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”