Found May 31, 2012 on Fox Sports Wisconsin:
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Erik Walden had an opportunity to be a full-time starter last season at outside linebacker for the Packers on the opposite end of Clay Matthews. Looking back now, Walden knows that his season went about as poorly as could be imagined.Despite Green Bay's 13-0 start to the season, the Packers' defense struggled getting to the quarterback and was giving up more passing yards than any team in league history. Matthews' numbers were drastically down and much of the blame fell on Walden for failing to provide enough pressure to free up the 2010 runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.Walden's year took a turn for the worse when he was arrested over Thanksgiving weekend following a victory in Detroit over the Lions. The arrest was due to a felony complaint of assaulting his girlfriend, and though charges were later dropped, four days in jail didn't help Walden's season to improve.A few weeks later, with the Packers coasting into the playoffs, coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers made a move that most 15-1 teams don't make: They benched one of their defensive starters, leaving Walden out of the lineup."I definitely faltered at the end, my play fell off," Walden said after practice at the Packers OTA. "I sucked versus Kansas City (Week 15). I lost like 12 pounds due to diarrhea Christmas Eve then tried to get out there to play. You don't get no pity in this league, so you just have to man up and take responsibility."I had things come up, that's part of life, but you move on and you cherish the opportunity you have right in front of you. That's kind of my mindset."Walden, 26, was replaced in the starting lineup in Week 17 by Brad Jones. Though Walden had played more than 900 snaps by that point in the season and Jones had barely played more than 100, McCarthy and Capers still made the move to try to find a spark within the defense."It's always very frustrating," Walden said. "You're right where you're supposed to be, then you get replaced. Then, especially in a big game, a playoff game, you weren't able to contribute like you wanted to, it's definitely frustrating. That's something I had to live with, but it also motivated me this offseason while I was training."Walden finished the season with three sacks and 43 tackles and entered free agency unsure of whether the Packers had any interest in re-signing him. However, on April 23, Walden agreed to a one-year deal to return to Green Bay, even knowing that his time as a starter was likely over."I always knew I wanted to be back," Walden said. "It's all that made sense, was just to come back. I know the system. Giving me another opportunity, a fresh start, go through this season unscathed, no adversity, lord willing, just see what happens."I felt like in my heart, it was the place to be, to be back in Green Bay. I had a couple other teams (interested), but it wasn't really anything that was overwhelming. So I felt like the best situation was to go somewhere where you know the defense and know the system. Clean start."Any chance of Walden regaining his starting spot became significantly more unlikely when the Packers drafted Nick Perry in the first round with the sole intention of immediately pairing him with Matthews as the team's top two outside linebackers.So far during offseason practices, it has been Perry running all drills with the first team defense while Walden watched from the sidelines."Competition makes us all better," Walden said. "At the end of the day, the man that's doing the best job, the most productive, I would expect him to be in that role. That's my mindset, doing everything I can do to show them what I've got."Walden dropped five pounds during the offseason, citing that he was too bulky last season and it slowed him down. But just because his starting job has been handed to Perry, Walden was just grateful that the Packers hadn't given up on him after a challenging year both on and off the field in 2011."It's an honor and a privilege to be playing, so I just look at it like that and try not to take things for granted," Walden said. "I'll go out and do what I need to do to take care of my business."I'll get my mojo back, play with a lot of confidence, and most of all, have fun. You can't take that away."Follow Paul Imig on Twitter
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