He's no Khalil Mack, but Reggie Gilbert looks real for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Those who want Khalil Mack in a Green Bay Packers uniform won't take Reggie Gilbert for an answer.

They won't accept that maybe the Packers have a budding young pass-rusher to take some of the workload off veterans Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.

But at around the same time as the Mack-to-the-Packers stories became even more frequent, all Gilbert did was put together a 2.5-sack performance in Thursday's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Combine that with a strong showing in training camp all month, and Gilbert's hold on a roster spot looks secure.

Yet after what Gilbert went through on the day of final cuts each of the past two seasons, he won't concede anything.

"I thought I made the team last year and prior years, you know what I mean?" Gilbert said.

He can admit now that he was stunned last summer when then-director of football operation Eliot Wolf called Gilbert back to the stadium on final cut day. He was so frustrated that he and his agents entertained practice-squad offers from other teams before they finally decided to try one more time with the Packers.

"I felt like I [could] make a career here," Gilbert said. "That's what we ultimately decided on."

It wasn't until Week 16 when the Packers finally called him up to the active roster. Nineteen-and-half months -- a total of 597 long days -- after he first signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona, Gilbert made his NFL regular-season debut against the Vikings. He played 46 snaps and recorded a team-best four quarterback pressures and three QB hits. A week later, he dumped Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford for his first career sack.

"I can't say enough about Reggie," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Thursday's preseason game against Pittsburgh. "I just love his path, his story, just the way he's grown in this program. He's a fine young football player, very versatile too."

Gilbert's first sack against the Steelers was a gimme; he was unblocked off the edge on a five-man rush, but he had the presence of mind to also knock the ball out of Mason Rudolph's hand. The Steelers recovered the fumble, but two plays later, Gilbert beat Jake Rodgers -- the Steelers' backup right tackle -- for another sack that he shared with Kyler Fackrell. His final sack came when he twice shoved back Rodgers and avoided a chip-block from the running back. He did all that in a 29-play stint.

Gilbert, however, refused to make too much out of his performance. He didn't pull a Datone Jones -- the former Packers first-round pick who said he wanted to be the next Reggie White.

Nor did he say that getting cut twice served as his inspiration.

"I really don't use that as too much motivation," Gilbert said. "That's just the player I am and the kind of person I am. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to try to be the best at it as I can possibly be. Right now, this is my profession. So I'm trying to be the best football player I can possibly be whether that's here or somewhere else. I'm always going to keep bringing my lunch pail to work and grinding and working hard."

It wasn't just a one-off performance. A week earlier, he had a pair of tackles and QB hit in a 35-play stint against the Titans in the preseason opener.

"He's setting up certain rushes, he's becoming smarter. The game's slowing down for him from what I can tell," said Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, who regularly goes against Gilbert in practice. "Another thing, he's gotten stronger. I've seen him in the weight room pushing around more weight, and I think he looks more like a football player. Me and Bryan [Bulaga] have always been fans of his -- and this is just a side thing, but I think he's a great person, a great teammate. I think he's someone you want to have in your locker room the way he goes about his business every day is first class and very professional."

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst ignored the outside linebacker spot in free agency and waited until the seventh round to draft one (Kendall Donnerson). Perhaps Gilbert's potential played a part in that -- more so than anything he saw from Fackrell, a third-year pro who hasn't developed, and 2017 fourth-round pick Vince Biegel. It's not like Gilbert's preseason production came as a huge surprise; he was one of the standouts of the offseason program.

Gilbert's snap count could take a hit now that Perry has been activated off the physically unable to perform list. Perry, who had offseason ankle surgery, practiced for the first time on Sunday.

Still, Gilbert's preseason production warrants snaps ahead of Fackrell and Biegel and given the injury histories of Matthews and Perry, expect to see him on the field when it counts, too.

Unless, of course, the Packers pull off a trade to get Mack out of Oakland.