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Countdown to Camp: Youth must rise up on Packers' defensive front

Kenny Clark leads a young group restocked via the draft in recent years

DL Kenny Clark
DL Kenny Clark

"Countdown to Camp" is a daily look at the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to the start of training camp. The series continues with the defensive line.

GREEN BAY – Any discussion of the Packers' youngest position group in 2023 immediately focuses on the wide receivers, and for good reason.

But Green Bay's defensive line isn't really much older.

The unit has one established and accomplished veteran in Kenny Clark, the two-time Pro Bowler who is entering his eighth season but still turns just 28 in October.

After that, the Packers will be relying on a bevy of young players, who will be asked to step into bigger, more prominent roles than they've had in the early stages of their careers.

The unquestioned leader of all that youth is Clark, the 2016 first-round draft pick from UCLA who last year recorded four sacks, the fifth time in the last six seasons he's posted at least that many. His 53 tackles also were his most since 2019, even though he was far from satisfied with his overall performance.

Perhaps more important has been Clark's durability. The 6-3, 314-pound interior stalwart has missed just one game since October of 2020 and just eight in his entire career.

Clark sets the standard for a position group that lost two veteran free agents in Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed, whose extensive snaps are most likely to be replaced by T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt, based on how the depth chart looked in OTAs.

Slaton (6-4, 330), a fifth-round pick out of Florida in 2021, hasn't missed a game in his first two seasons in the league but has started just twice. That number is likely to jump considerably as he looks to build on the 31 tackles, two tackles for loss and two deflected passes he recorded last season.

Wyatt (6-3, 304), chosen in the first round out of Georgia last year, was brought along slowly as a rookie but came on strong late, beginning when he shared a sack of Rams QB Baker Mayfield in Week 15.

From there, Wyatt played 90 defensive snaps over the last three games and notched his first career solo sack and forced fumble in the finale vs. the Lions.

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

Two other returnees to the unit are second-year pro Jonathan Ford and practice-squad holdover Chris Slayton, but neither has any regular-season game experience.

The massive Ford (6-5, 338) made the 53-man roster as a seventh-round pick from Miami last year but was a gameday inactive all season. Slayton (6-4, 307) is actually the second-oldest member of the defensive line at 26 but has yet to play in an NFL game. A waiver claim in the spring of 2022, Slayton has now spent time on the practice squad of six different clubs, including Green Bay, since being drafted by the Giants in the seventh round in 2019.

As they did last year in selecting Wyatt and Ford, the Packers added two more prospects to the defensive line in the 2023 draft, choosing Auburn's Colby Wooden in the fourth round and Bowling Green's Karl Brooks in the sixth.

Wooden (6-4, 273) is the taller and leaner of the two, recording 17 sacks among 30 tackles for loss as a three-year starter in the SEC. Brooks (6-3, 296) is built more like an interior player but lined up all across the defensive front in the MAC as he racked up 27½ career sacks, including 10 among 69 total pressures (according to Pro Football Focus) last season.

Two other additions to the unit signed with the Packers as undrafted rookies. Illinois State's Jason Lewan (6-6, 293) played in 47 games (41 starts) over five college seasons, his best coming in 2019, when he had three of his five collegiate sacks. Miami's Antonio Moultrie (6-4, 275) played the bulk of his college career at UAB before transferring for his final season.

Countdown to Camp series

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