By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Oct 08, 2014 at 1:08 PM

GREEN BAY – Jayrone Elliott isn’t shy, and isn’t afraid to hold himself accountable for his actions – or, for the better part of his football career – inaction.

The Green Bay Packers rookie outside linebacker is 6-feet, 3-inches and weighs 255 pounds.

He’s quick, and has a nose for the splash play. An NFL-leading five sacks in the preseason proved as much. Yet you couldn’t help but wonder as Elliott was abusing Kansas City Chiefs starting right tackle Donald Stephenson in the final preseason contest why he was undrafted.

He’ll tell you, though, straight up.

"I didn’t see it," he said of a future in the NFL. "I was just being lazy and thought it would be handed out to me."

His high school coach, Ted Ginn, Sr., had to ride him at Glenville High School in Cleveland, Ohio, just to get a shot at the University of Toledo. But for three years there, Elliott admittedly tried to skate by.

He was kicked out of the Rockets' winter conditioning program his freshman year for lack of effort, and he never embraced the weight room – remaining athletic, but spindly, for a defensive end.

"I hated waking up," Elliott said. "I always had to lift at 6 a.m. because I was always struggling and they had me with the older guys. I used to struggle a lot with the weights and getting up that early. I threw up every day. I was struggling."

His talent put him on the field as a true freshman, but his body only allowed him to play in pass rush situations. He increased his sack total from zero to six in his first three years, but his Rockets coaches knew so much more was there, just waiting to be tapped into.

In the second spring practice before his senior season, Elliott made a crack about not being able to stop the run. It caught the ear of Eli Rasheed, his defensive line coach – who finally had enough.

He stopped Elliott.

You’re going to stop the run. You need to start thinking highly of yourself. You need to attack this weight room. You need to get in the film room. And you need to attack every day like it’s your last day.

Rasheed’s temerity knocked Elliott on his heels. He was serious.

"Just the way he looked at me, and thought so highly of me, it made me believe I could really do something with my life," Elliott said. "I didn’t take football for granted, but I didn’t know how good I could be. Just from that day on, it really helped me adjust my focus to get better every day at something. It kind of just clicked from that day on.

"It was one day that changed my whole season, my whole mindset."

The weight room no longer made him sick. That spring and summer, Elliott added 25 pounds of muscle to his frame. No longer would he be a third down only specialist – he became a player the Rockets built their new 3-4 scheme around.

Toledo took his hands off the ground and stood him up at outside linebacker his senior year, and he ended the season with nine sacks and additional 14 tackles for loss in 12 games, along with five forced fumbles.

"He probably turned some (heads) at least piqued some interest in some teams because now he at least looks the part," Rasheed said. "He’s playing first down, he’s in a scheme that can really help him show he can do, dropping and rushing and playing that two-point stance."

It was a solid year, but nearly too late. Scouts had wanted to know why he wasn’t an every down player for the better part of his career. The draft came and went.

"After that season with him playing in that defense, we’re like if somebody can just bring him in camp they’ll see that he’s a raw piece of clay that’s just scratching the surface of his potential," Rasheed said. "He’s got a high ceiling – just take a chance on him. He’s a late developer and he’s going to continue to develop and work at it. He’s going to be a great player."

It’s a chance the Packers were willing to give – but there wouldn’t be the grace periods afforded in high school and college. If Elliott didn’t work, didn’t perform, he wasn’t going to be around for long.

Had it truly clicked?

"Being undrafted, I feel like you have to be great to get out there," he said.

Has he been "great?" No – but he was good enough to earn to first earn a roster spot, and then a place on the field the last two weeks.

"The evaluation process is not necessarily in a very condensed time," Packers assistant head coach and linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "I mean, from the time that we brought him in after the draft, we have enough time to assess what he can do and it doesn’t; just doesn’t have to necessarily be the impact he has in a game. So if we feel as though a guy has significant potential and he’s shown it and he’s confirmed it on, either film or in a game, then he earns that right to make the team."

"Then if makes the team he earns that right to improve daily to where he’s put himself in position to now be a part of the active, so far, active roster, where he has an opportunity to contribute."

To get better, Elliott is leaning on Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers – men he looked up to coming in to the league, and now teammates he looks to as mentors. Matthews has helped him with alignment, reading the stances of linemen to anticipate protection, and which shoulder to attack to better cause disruption.

And Peppers has shown him new ways to approach film study, asking questions of Moss and Capers that only a 13-year veteran could even think of.

Rasheed says it’s the best environment for a sponge like Elliott, who peppered with him questions daily at Toledo.

"He’s going to watch those guys," Rasheed said. "There is no (better) tool for him than to have those two great, future Hall of Famers in the same room with him. If he can just hang on and learn from those guys he’ll have a really good chance to be a great player in the NFL. Having those two guys? That’s a dream come true, to sit back and learn from the best."

Elliott has done that on special teams, too, with Packers’ coach Shawn Slocum. He’s played every position along the front line on kickoff returns, and has played every spot on punt return except gunner and returner.

"I’m just learning every position so therefore when my chance is there I can just jump in and it’ll be natural," Elliott said.

His first action at linebacker came in Week 4 against the Chicago Bears, where he saw 14 snaps, but in reality he’s not that far removed from his first start as an every down linebacker – which came in the first week of his senior season at Toledo last fall.

"I think that when you look at what a rusher, or what Jay has to do to develop as a young guy, is very significant, and it’s going to take time," Moss said. "For him to go through the whole process of not only run (recognition) but executing and trying to take his instincts and improve upon it, it’s a big deal. Some people it takes longer than others, but I think he’s done a good job so far."

Elliott understands that pivotal moment with Rasheed in the spring of 2013 wasn’t that long ago, and he has plenty of room to grow. But for the first time, he sees that room for himself.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.