Back with Packers, Campbell wants to prove 2021 was no fluke
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Green Bay Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell considered his new contract a dream come true, but it apparently wasn't cause for celebration.
He's too busy trying to prove his best days are still ahead of him. Campbell says he's heard the criticism that he can't build on his breakthrough performance from last season, when he earned All-Pro honors.
"A lot of people thought it was a fluke," Campbell said Wednesday while talking to Green Bay reporters for the first time since signing his new deal. "You know how that goes. I'm just trying to continue to get better every day and keep pressing forward and try to repeat."
Campbell agreed to a five-year, $50 million contract to stay in Green Bay after becoming the first Packers inside linebacker to earn first-team All-Pro honors since Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke in 1966. He joined the Packers last year after playing for the Atlanta Falcons (2016-19) and Arizona Cardinals (2020).
His return should provide a big boost for a Packers team that may need to lean on its defense more without the presence of All-Pro receiver Davante Adams, who was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders.
"I'm happy to have Dre back," outside linebacker Preston Smith said. "He's a big asset and just having him on defense just makes a lot of guys more comfortable, including the coaching staff and organization, knowing we've got this guy in the middle who can make plays for us, get guys lined up and he can play at a high level each and every week is a huge thing."
Campbell said Wednesday he felt at home in Green Bay from the time he arrived and noted the appreciation he felt from people across the Packers organization, including president/CEO Mark Murphy, general manager Brian Gutekunst and vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball.
That made him want to stay with the Packers.
"I've always felt like I've done all the right things for the wrong people," Campbell said. "To actually find people who show their appreciation for you, you want to run through a wall for them. Like I said, the fact the Packers showed me a commitment, it's mutual. It goes both ways."
Campbell said he was more productive in Green Bay because he got to settle in at the "MIKE" linebacker position rather than having to fill multiple roles. Campbell said he often had to alternate between "MIKE" linebacker, strong-side linebacker and weak-side linebacker on his previous teams.
Before joining the Packers last year, Campbell said he wanted to play "MIKE" linebacker exclusively. Campbell has known Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur since his rookie season and therefore trusted what the Packers told him.
"I was playing so many different positions to the point where people were like, `We don't know what he's good at because he's doing this, this and this. Yeah, he's good at it, but we haven't seen him do one thing on a consistent basis,'" Campbell said. "That's what I was hearing. So, I wanted to kind of (kill) that rumor. `He's just an average player.' No, I know I'm great and I've always felt like that.
"But like I said, opportunity is everything and I never had the opportunity to consistently showcase it. Now that I'm here and able to do it, everybody is seeing it on a national stage."
Now he has a bigger contract to go along with that opportunity.
Although Campbell says he hasn't held any celebrations over his new deal, he called it a dream come true and noted what it means for his family.
"When you finally reach that ultimate goal of being able to set your kids up for life so my kids don't have to grow up and do some of the stuff I had to do to make it by, that's what it's all about," Campbell said.
"I look at them every day and I'm like, `It's all about y'all. This is what I do it for.' So just knowing that they're set for life, no matter whatever else happens to me for the rest of my life, I can live with it knowing that I did everything I could to put them in the best position possible."
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Updated April 20, 2022