This is the fifth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, heading into training camp. The series continues with the defensive line.
GREEN BAY – One of the Packers’ greatest strengths grew even stronger this offseason with the addition of two-time All-Pro Muhammad Wilkerson to Green Bay’s defensive line.
In his first significant acquisition as general manager, Brian Gutekunst signed the 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive lineman March 13 following a visit in Green Bay a week earlier.
A veteran of 105 regular-season games, Wilkerson missed only seven games during his first seven NFL seasons with the New York Jets. His resume includes a pair of seasons with at least 10 sacks, both of which earned Wilkerson All-Pro honors.
The move not only adds an experienced veteran to the Packers’ deep defensive front, it also reunites Wilkerson with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who helped launch Wilkerson’s career during their two seasons together in New York from 2011-12.
The Packers underwent a heavy overhaul on defense this offseason, beginning with the installation of Pettine as coordinator. However, the one position that went relatively untouched was defensive line, where Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry all return.
Coming off his first Pro Bowl, Daniels enters the 2018 season three sacks behind Cullen Jenkins for the most in franchise history by a Packers defensive tackle. A durable and vocal leader, Daniels has finished with four or more sacks in each of the past five seasons.
Clark, Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2016, finished his second NFL season on a high note with 4½ sacks in the month of December, while his 55 tackles were the most by a Packers defensive lineman since Green Bay switched to a 3-4 in 2009.
Lowry, a draft classmate of Clark’s, saw his playing time increase exponentially in 2017 and the former fourth-round pick responded with 32 tackles and two sacks in 16 games (11 starts).
The 6-foot-6, 296-pound defensive end had the best game of his young career against Tampa Bay Dec 3. In addition to his four tackles and a sack, Lowry returned a fumble for a 62-yard touchdown in a 26-20 win at Lambeau Field. The performance earned Lowry NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Behind their three returning veterans, the Packers also bring back 2017 third-round pick Montravius Adams, who missed nearly all of his first NFL training camp due to foot surgery. He recovered in time to remain on the active roster but played only 65 defensive snaps over seven games.
Depth at the position didn’t prevent the Packers from drafting a defensive lineman for the 22nd consecutive year, taking UCLA’s James Looney in the seventh round (232nd overall).
Looney, whose older brother, Joe, plays for the Cowboys, proved his own NFL potential on the back of a steady career with the Bruins (131 tackles, seven sacks) and strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
After the draft, the Packers signed two decorated Big Ten alumni, Conor Sheehy (Wisconsin) and Tyler Lancaster (Northwestern), and added second-year defensive lineman Joey Mbu, who had been on Green Bay’s radar for the past three years.
With Wilkerson in the fold and a bevy of returning veterans, the Packers are hopeful the defensive line can provide a foundation for Pettine’s unit in 2018 and beyond.