Countdown to Camp: Progress required from defensive line's returnees

Packers' unit staying mostly intact for 2020

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DL Kenny Clark

Countdown to Camp is a series of stories examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The sixth installment features the defensive line.

GREEN BAY – Given the way the 2019 season ended, changes on the Packers' defensive line seemed inevitable.

Yet that wasn't Green Bay's approach this offseason.

The Packers didn't draft a defensive lineman for the first time since 1996 and made just one modest, journeyman free-agent signing at the position.

So they're counting on improvement from within to create a stronger anchor up front for a defensive unit that allowed 285 rushing yards to the 49ers with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

It's a bit of a gamble, but even the team's best defensive lineman hasn't reached his peak, and the Packers believe the rest of the group hasn't played its best football yet either.

Kenny Clark (6-3, 314) remains the stalwart, coming off his second straight season with at least a half dozen sacks, which earned him his first Pro Bowl bid as an injury replacement for Aaron Donald.

GM Brian Gutekunst has said repeatedly the Packers want to sign Clark to a long-term contract, but that hasn't happened yet as the 2016 first-round draft pick enters the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Whether the holdup is related to any economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic isn't clear.

In any event, Clark set a career high in tackles last season with 89 despite regularly getting double-teamed at the point of attack, and he seems headed for a double-digit sack season sooner than later. Last December, for the second time in his career, he had 4½ sacks in a month's time.

He needs more help from his linemates to keep the double teams at bay, though, putting significant expectations on the returning quartet of Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Kingsley Keke and Montravius Adams in 2020.

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

Lowry (6-6, 296), a member of Clark's draft class, got a new contract before last season, started all 18 games, set a career high in tackles, including five for loss, and snagged his first career interception at a key moment in a late-season victory over Chicago.

But 11 QB pressures and no sacks did not continue his trajectory from 2018 (14 pressures, three sacks) and the defense is looking for more there.

The same can be said for Lancaster (6-3, 313), who has progressed in two years from an undrafted rookie on the practice squad to a frequent starter. Like Lowry a Northwestern product, Lancaster is still working on his pass rush (1½ sacks in two seasons) to round out his game. Whether he can be effective and productive with a larger role, or if he's better suited as a rotational substitute, could be determined this season.

Keke (6-3, 288), a sixth-round pick from Texas A&M last year, is the one the Packers may be banking on to improve the most and take on larger responsibility. He played sparingly as a rookie but flashed at times, such as when he recorded a tackle for loss on third-and-2 in the NFC title game.

Meanwhile, Adams (6-4, 304) has reached a crossroads in his career. Lauded for a strong offseason heading into 2019, it didn't materialize in the way of production, and his playing time dwindled as the year went along. He has yet to live up to his third-round draft status from 2017 and has the final year of his rookie contract to prove he belongs.

The two newcomers to the group are Treyvon Hester and Willington Previlon.

Hester (6-2, 304) is the free-agent pickup who's on his fourth team in four years, having previously played one season each for Oakland, Philadelphia and Washington. Originally a seventh-round draft pick from Toledo, he's recorded two sacks in 41 career games. With the Eagles, he also was credited with tipping Chicago kicker Cody Parkey's game-winning field goal attempt in the 2018 NFC Wild Card playoff game.

Previlon (6-5, 287) is an undrafted rookie from Rutgers who was named honorable mention All-Big Ten and his team's MVP last season.

Countdown to Camp series

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