Countdown to Camp: Kenny Clark's strong finish to 2020 bodes well for Packers' defensive line

Kingsley Keke’s emergence could allow Joe Barry to get creative with Clark

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DL Kenny Clark

As training camp approaches, packers.com is examining Green Bay's roster, position by position. The series continues with the defensive line.

GREEN BAY – The most rewarding season of Kenny Clark's NFL career also doubled as the Pro Bowl defensive lineman's most challenging to date.

On the heels of the contract extension he signed with the Packers in August, Clark saw more attention and double-teams from the opposition in 2020. There was also a Week 1 groin injury Clark sustained in Minnesota that sidelined him for the first month of the season.

By midseason, Clark was healthy again and would find his groove in the trenches. He led the D-line in tackles for the fourth consecutive year (42) and was a defensive catalyst during Green Bay's playoff run, registering 11 tackles and 2½ sacks.

Remarkably, at just 25 years old, Clark is Green Bay's longest-tenured player on defense. With 235 career tackles and 18½ sacks already on his NFL resume, the 6-foot-3, 314-pound defensive tackle hopes to solidify himself as one of the league's top interior forces in 2021.

For the past few seasons, the Packers have been looking for a few young defensive linemen to emerge who can help lessen Clark's burden inside. Enter Kingsley Keke.

A former fifth-round pick out of Texas A&M, Keke made the second-year jump the Packers were hoping for in 2020. After graduating into a starting role, the 6-foot-3, 288-pound defensive tackle recorded 21 tackles, eight quarterback hits and four sacks in 15 appearances.

All four of those sacks came in two games – a 37-30 win over New Orleans in Week 3 and a 30-16 triumph over Philadelphia in Week 13.

Unfortunately, Keke's breakout season was interrupted by a late-season concussion that sidelined him for the final three games (including both playoff contests).

The following is the fifth installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the defensive line.

However, Keke was cleared to fully participate in the Packers' offseason program and appears poised to be a fixture of new coordinator Joe Barry's defense moving forward.

The Packers also return durable veteran Dean Lowry, who overcame a slow start through the first six games to finish his sixth NFL season on a high note.

The 6-foot-6, 296-pound lineman tied his personal-best with three sacks a year ago while leading the Green Bay's defensive line with 601 regular-season snaps. Lowry has yet to miss a game due to injury in his NFL career,

His former Northwestern teammate, Tyler Lancaster, is also back after re-signing with the Packers on March 30.

The 6-foot-3, 313-pound defensive lineman has been a reliable rotational piece for the last three years, recording 79 tackles and 1½ sacks while missing just one regular-season game since he was elevated form the practice squad in October 2018.

Behind their core four, the Packers added a few D-line prospects this offseason that hope to find their way onto the team's 53-man roster a little more than a month from now.

After not drafting a defensive lineman in 2020, the first time that had happened in quarter-century, the Packers got back in the D-line business this past May when they selected Florida's T.J. Slaton in the fifth round.

The massive 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive lineman made a series of changes to his diet entering his senior year with the Gators and his discipline paid dividends. After dropping his weight down from 358, Slaton recorded a career-high 37 tackles with five pressures and 1½ sacks in 2020.

A "freakish athlete" who has been able to dunk a basketball since high school, Slaton said this offseason his goal to play at around 320 pounds as a rookie. By the end of OTAs, he already had started putting together a plan with the nutrition staff.

Slaton will compete with returning defensive lineman Willington Previlon, who spent his rookie year on Green Bay's practice squad. The Rutgers alumnus recorded 71 tackles (12½ for a loss), four sacks and three passes defensed in 36 games (18 starts).

In addition to Slaton, Green Bay also signed undrafted rookie Jack Heflin in May. Heflin registered 21 tackles (3 ½ for a loss) and a sack in eight starts after transferring to Iowa in 2020. He played his first three college seasons at Northern Illinois.

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