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First-team snaps pushing T.J. Slaton to prove himself up front

Rookie defensive lineman was drafted in fifth round by Packers

DL T.J. Slaton
DL T.J. Slaton

GREEN BAY – It's the opportunity any rookie loves to get in his first training camp, taking snaps with the No. 1 unit.

It's also not lost on defensive lineman T.J. Slaton this chance he has to show what he's got.

"I'm taking it by the neck," Slaton said of working with the ones after Tuesday's full-pads practice at Ray Nitschke Field. "You're trying to really go. You're trying to go as hard as you can just so you can prove that you fit. That I'm here."

Slaton, a mountain of a young man (6-4, 330) drafted in the fifth round out of Florida, has made his presence felt. He's filled in on the No. 1 defense the last few practices while Kenny Clark (groin) has sat out.

The defensive line is actually down two regulars, with Kingsley Keke having not yet practiced in camp, instead rehabbing an ankle injury off to the side.

Fourth-year pro Tyler Lancaster has taken most of Keke's first-team reps thus far, and now Slaton has joined Lancaster and Dean Lowry in base fronts.

"Work in progress," defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said this past weekend about Slaton, the standard answer about any rookie in these early stages. "We've just got to get him to play to the standard of our room."

Slaton said Montgomery harps on him mostly about using his hands to get off blocks, and about turning and running to the ball, especially when quarterback Aaron Rodgers fires a pass so quickly the linemen have barely had a chance to rush.

That adjustment to the speed of the pro game is a daily focus for Slaton, but he has the athleticism to do so. Despite his size, he can dunk a basketball with relative ease.

"You have to just play with a lot of aggression and you have to get off the ball," he said. "You just have to try to fight to get up to that tempo."

Succeeding with that on every-snap basis is another point of emphasis. Head Coach Matt LaFleur mentioned being more consistent and providing "the necessary effort on every play" as keys the coaches are watching for with Slaton.

They've seen the impact he can make. Late last week, he deflected and intercepted a Jordan Love pass at the line of scrimmage and began rumbling the other way.

Then on Tuesday, he batted down a Rodgers pass at the line of scrimmage and got into the backfield to make first contact with AJ Dillon on a running play.

Next up is to perform that way in the first preseason game Saturday night, when Clark and Keke likely will remain out. It's a showcase opportunity for a guy like Slaton, who loves how hard he's being coached and wants to earn at least a rotational role for when the defensive line returns to full strength.

"He's lucky," Montgomery said. "He's going to get plenty of opportunity to prove himself. That's all you can ask for as a young kid."