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Kenny Clark aims to be 'more disruptive' in Packers' new defense

Three-time Pro Bowler met coordinator Jeff Hafley before Tailgate Tour bus hit the road

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley and DL Kenny Clark
Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley and DL Kenny Clark

GREEN BAY – Just before he embarked on a weeklong meet-and-greet with statewide fans as part of the Packers Tailgate Tour, Kenny Clark had an important in-house meet-and-greet to take care of first.

Clark, with the decked-out tour bus waiting to hit the road Tuesday morning, was introduced to his new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley for the first time.

"Fiery, his energy … he's going to bring it," Clark said of his first impression, which to date was based on just a phone call with Hafley earlier this offseason. "He's going to challenge everybody – challenge everybody to be great. That's what you want as a coach. You want them to hold guys accountable.

"I think this scheme … it'll be good for us up front. It's going to allow us to be way more disruptive."

That's got Clark, who also met new assistant defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase before the bus departed, excited to build on a productive 2023, when he earned Pro Bowl recognition for a third time.

If last season wasn't Clark's best, it was his best since his first Pro Bowl selection in 2019. In 2023, Clark posted a career-high 7½ sacks, along with 16 quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss, three batted passes and two forced fumbles while starting every game.

Playing a different defensive front under Hafley is expected to provide more opportunities for one-gap penetration in lieu of two-gap, hold-the-point duties. That's music to a pass-rushing D-lineman's ears, particularly one with an explosive first step.

"I've always been a technical guy, but it's going to give that mentality to just cut it loose more within the defense," Clark said. "That suits my game well … especially with my get-off and how I play technique."

Clark's former linemate Mike Daniels, also part of this year's Tailgate Tour entourage, took it a step further. The retired Pro Bowler, who played alongside Clark for three years (2016-18), summoned his typical boldness in describing the type of scheme change any interior lineman would welcome.

"You might as well get Kenny Clark's Hall of Fame jacket and just start fitting him for it right now, man," Daniels said, explaining how the game will be a lot more "simplified" for the defenders up front.

"I'm excited for him and I'm excited for any young guy coming in, because they're going to come into a situation where they're going to be encouraged to make the plays and not be there for the others to make plays."

Canton hyperbole aside, Daniels has admired Clark and how he's gone from such a young pup to one of the top dogs in the league at his position. Daniels played 10 seasons in all with the Packers (2012-18), Lions (2019) and Bengals (2020-21) and will turn 35 next month, while Clark – a first-round draft pick in 2016 – is entering his ninth season but is still 18 months shy of his 30th birthday.

"It's nice to see Kenny become like the wise old sage of the room," Daniels said. "When he's coming in, he's like a 20-year-old little brat, now he's like the O.G. in the room, and I'm like, 'Man this is crazy to see you as that guy. You're the me, when I was the (B.J.) Raji, when Raji was the (Ryan) Pickett,' and so forth.

"You just see that passing of the torch. I love that guy, man. That's my brother. That'll never change. It's good to be back with him."

The two teammates had already caught up a little on the car ride to Lambeau Field to catch the tour bus, as Clark picked up Daniels on his way. They'll have plenty more to discuss throughout the week, including perhaps their leadership styles, which differ greatly and aren't likely to align anytime soon.

As much as Clark learned about the game from the outgoing and rather boisterous Daniels, he has his own, more understated demeanor and personality he plans to bring to the new defense under Hafley.

"You all know me. I'm chill, man," Clark said. "I lead by example. I am who I am. I think the guys, they see that, they respect it, and they follow it. They see the work that I put in.

"When I do need to talk, I do it, so I'm just going to keep being who I am for this team, keep bringing it every single day. We had a really good year last year. I'm excited about the growth of this team and to get things rolling with that."

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