GREEN BAY – Kenny Clark was a different player from his first to his second NFL game.
Clark explained the difference this way: When he took the field for his NFL debut in Jacksonville, mentally he was still in something like preseason mode, getting himself revved up to full speed as the game went on.
Last week at Minnesota, he was full bore from the moment he stepped inside the white lines.
“I wasn’t playing timid but I was playing to kind of get going,” Clark said of Week 1. “I just needed to come out and go now.
“I came out there with a different mentality, an attacking mentality. I felt pretty good as the game wore on.”
It showed in his play. Taking a larger number of snaps than anticipated due to fellow defensive lineman Letroy Guion’s knee injury, the Packers’ rookie first-round draft pick held his own up front.
He was credited with two tackles, but he also did his part in the collective effort to hold running back Adrian Peterson to 19 yards on 12 carries. Clark stood firm against double-teams to free up teammates to corral Peterson.
He also batted down one of Sam Bradford’s passes at the line of scrimmage, a skill he showed a knack for in college. In 2015 at UCLA, Clark had five passes defensed, good for third on his team.
“As a nose guard I’m always going to get double-teamed on the pass, and it’s hard to get to the quarterback already,” he said. “So as guys are rushing, … I have to look where the quarterback is looking and get my hands up, and hopefully bat a pass down or get the quarterback to hesitate a little bit.”
Bradford didn’t hesitate much, but with the pressure the Packers have been putting on QBs, big plays could start to come Green Bay’s way. Maybe the next time Clark deflects a pass it will land in a teammate’s arms.
As well as the defense played up front, it was tough to come out on the losing end in Minnesota, but Clark said the attitude and approach of the players has been pretty much the same throughout the locker room.
“Let’s just get back to work and start hammering at it again,” he said. “It was a disappointing loss. It was a pretty close game, a pretty good game, but we swallowed it, took care of it, and we’ve moved on to the next game.”
Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said he sees in Clark a player whose arrow is pointing up. Clark missed the final two preseason games due to injury, but now that he’s been back in practice full-time for a couple of weeks, his improvement and acclimation to the pro game have been steady.
That hopefully portends more good things on the horizon for the Packers’ defensive front, and Clark has as effective a role model as he could ask for at his position in fifth-year defensive tackle Mike Daniels.
“I’m trying to just tune in to how he prepares himself for the game,” Clark said. “He comes in and goes to work every day. Even when we do walk-throughs, he’s sweating in the walk-throughs and he’s working. I’m just trying to learn everything I can from Mike and Letroy. I’m excited to have those guys leading me.”
Guion did not practice on Wednesday due to his knee injury from the Minnesota game, when he got tangled up with Julius Peppers on a pass rush. His status for Sunday’s home opener vs. Detroit is uncertain as of this posting.
If Clark is called upon to assume a heavier workload in Guion’s absence, rest assured there’s no going back to his “feeling out” process from Week 1. He’s now learned what it takes.
“I’m excited for the challenge,” he said. “If that presents itself, then I’ll be ready to go.”