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Devonte Wyatt ready to take next step after rookie apprenticeship

Packers’ first-round pick learned many lessons from Kenny Clark & Co. 

DL Devonte Wyatt
DL Devonte Wyatt

GREEN BAY – Devonte Wyatt has played this game before.

Prior to becoming an All-Southeastern Conference defensive tackle, the Packers' future first-round pick cut his teeth for two seasons as a reserve interior lineman at the University of Georgia.

Each year in Athens, Wyatt grew a little bit more as a player en route to the 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman starting 14 games, and generating 27 quarterback pressures, as a senior for the 2021 national champions.

One year later, Wyatt can see the parallels between his formative years with the Bulldogs and his rookie season in Green Bay, where he rotated behind veterans Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed for three months before graduating into a more prominent role.

Stepping in for an injured Lowry, Wyatt registered five tackles, three quarterback hits and 1½ sacks in 100 defensive snaps over his final four games.

"I came with a positive mindset my whole season," said Wyatt, who had 10 tackles and no QB hits in his first 11 games.

"I knew my time was coming. Just be patient because it started off like this in college. I was behind people. I was learning. It's just all about patience. That's all it takes is patience, learn, stay positive and help your teammates develop."

Clark was a big help to Wyatt while in the rookie waiting room. The seventh-year defensive lineman went through his own growing pains as a first-round pick in 2016 before becoming a two-time Pro Bowler and team captain.

One other conversation that had a profound impact on Wyatt was with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. During training camp last summer, the rookie approached Rodgers in the team cafeteria and asked if he could eat with the four-time MVP.

Rodgers, a former first-round pick himself, helped put Wyatt's mind at ease about managing the high expectations that accompany a high draft selection.

While good health on the defensive line kept Wyatt on the sidelines at the start of the year, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery saw signs of progress on the practice field.

"Definitely getting better, gaining more trust each day, getting more reps," said Montgomery in November. "He's deserving of the reps and he's getting them. Just keep giving him opportunities and letting him go out and get his feet wet."

By December, something appeared to click. Whether it was the game slowing down or just pure comfort, Wyatt began making more plays with the snaps he was given.

Wyatt combined with Justin Hollins for his first career sack in a 24-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 19. A week later, Lowry sustained a season-ending calf injury in Miami and Wyatt officially was in the lineup the rest of the way.

After seeing a career-high 34 snaps against Minnesota in Week 17, Wyatt recorded his first career solo sack in the regular-season finale against Detroit to finish his rookie year on a high note.

"He's earned that because of the way he's worked," said defensive coordinator Joe Barry last month. "It was exciting to see him kind of coming on. Obviously with Dean (Lowry)'s loss …  you're going to expect D-Wy's role to increase even more. Same thing with T.J. (Slaton). But it's been good to see D-Wy grow."

The 24-year-old defensive lineman is looking forward to his first NFL offseason for several reasons, beginning with the birth of his son, Devonte Jr., whose November arrival was a source of motivation for Wyatt down the stretch.

As a player, Wyatt felt he grew significantly from watching Clark and Co., from recognizing blocks to understanding how the D-line fits into the defensive scheme.

"It's just getting me the idea of all the things that I need to know to work on, just small things you need to know before going back into the next year," Wyatt said. "So, when you come back, it'll be a lot better when I'm out here."

The tools are there, as Wyatt flashed the power and quickness to move people in the trenches. Knowing what he's capable of, Wyatt's goal for 2023 is to think less and play more.

If he can continue to grow his game, Wyatt believes he'll be in position to carve out a niche in the Packers' defense in Year 2. In the meantime, he's staying patient and doing what's asked.

"God put me in this spot for a reason," Wyatt said. "I'm kind of happy about this year I've had. I'm not mad about it. I've developed. I've watched the guys in front of me. I know what not to do, what to do."

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