GREEN BAY – Dean Lowry mentions practically everyone on the Packers’ defensive line before ever talking about himself.
Asked at the end of the 2018 season about the progress he made, the third-year defensive lineman pivots to praise Kenny Clark for his breakout season and credit Tyler Lancaster and Montravius Adams for stepping up after Mike Daniels and Muhammad Wilkerson suffered season-ending injuries.
Not once, however, does Lowry bring up the fact he set career highs across the board with 44 tackles, three sacks and three pass deflections. That’s just not his style.
Neither is it to complain when snaps aren’t easy to come by. With the defense featuring Daniels, Clark and Wilkerson early on, Lowry played a modest 57 snaps during the first three weeks of the year. Not once did the former fourth-round pick fuss about it.
Instead, Lowry quietly did his job until a long line of injuries decimated arguably Green Bay’s deepest position group heading into the 2018 season.
Daniels (foot), Wilkerson (ankle) and Clark (shoulder) combined to miss 22 games, pushing Lowry into the lineup on an every-down basis. By the end of the year, the 6-foot-6, 296-pound defensive end played a career-high 698 defensive snaps.
“There were some ups and downs, (but) overall I think I stepped in very well once Mo and Mike went down,” Lowry said. “That was a big part – just being durable and consistent in there is very valuable to the team.”
Projected as a prototypical five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme coming out of Northwestern in 2016, Lowry has demonstrated across-the-line versatility so far in Green Bay.
Those tools were tested down the stretch when Clark missed the final three games. While more was asked of Lancaster and Adams, Lowry emerged as a reliable force in the heart of the defense.
With Lowry in the middle, the Packers’ run defense allowed only 277 yards on 87 carries (2.6 yards per attempt) over the last three weeks. Lowry also added two pass deflections in the regular-season finale against Detroit.
“He matured as a pro,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. “He was more productive. He was consistent. He stepped up and pushed the pocket for us. He was dominant in the run game. I think he’s going to play in this league for a long time.”
Lowry has yet to miss a game due to injury, racking up 84 tackles, seven sacks and six pass deflections in 47 career regular-season games.
Individually, Lowry hopes to take “the next step” in both his pass-rush technique and run-stopping abilities next season. On the cusp of 25, Lowry made it his goal for 2019 to “make plays beyond expectations” of a typical defensive lineman.
The future appears bright for his position group. On the current depth chart at defensive line, only Wilkerson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
“I felt stronger at the point of attack,” Lowry said. “I think I had some good knock-backs throughout the year on the line of scrimmage. I got off blocks pretty well. I made some progress. I think overall, with our entire D-line unit, it was very encouraging.”
The one silver lining to all the injuries is they afforded opportunities to Adams and Lancaster, Lowry’s former teammate at Northwestern who signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent last spring.
After starting the year on the practice squad, Lancaster was promoted to the active roster after Wilkerson’s season-ending injury in Washington in Week 3 and assumed Clark’s starting spot at nose tackle during the final three games of the season.
The return of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Montgomery gives Lowry even greater confidence in the direction of the Packers’ defensive line moving forward.
As the Packers turn their attention to 2019, Lowry believes the bitter aftertaste of a 6-9-1 season will drive the defense to a better outcome next season.
“It motivates you going back-to-back years missing your goal of the playoffs,” Lowry said. “I think guys will come with a renewed energy this offseason. We’ll have a staff in place. So we’ll see what their plan for us is, but I can tell you we’ll be motivated and hungry next year.”