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Kenny Clark eager to show he's one of NFL's top defensive tackles

Packers’ veteran lineman hoping for another great year after “Top 100” snub 

DL Kenny Clark
DL Kenny Clark

GREEN BAY – Kenny Clark isn't asking for any flower bouquets to be tossed at his feet for a job well done.

However, the Packers' Pro Bowl defensive tackle did raise an eyebrow last week when the NFL Network's annual "Top 100 Players" list came and went without his name being called.

Clark has missed only four games through his first four NFL seasons, amassing 193 tackles, 16½ sacks and four forced fumbles in 60 regular-season games. His 49 pressures in 2019 were second only to perennial All-Pro Aaron Donald among defensive tackles.

Yet, for everything he's accomplished before his 25th birthday this October, Clark's hype train remains in the station. While he's not complaining about it, Clark would like to remind everyone what he's capable of on the field.

"Sometimes, it messes with my mind because I don't know what (more) I can do or show," said Clark in a video conference call with Green Bay media Monday. "I don't know if they don't respect me as much or because I'm inside, they don't see (me). They don't know the game, they aren't watching the film. They don't see me on tape as much. I'm not making as (many) splash plays. I don't know what it is."

The position likely does have a lot to do with it. Only seven defensive tackles were included on this year's "Top 100." Although Donald came at No. 3 overall, you'd have to go all the way to No. 52 to find the next defensive tackle (Kansas City's Chris Jones).

At the same time, the 2019 season was still a breakthrough in many ways for Clark. He played a career-high 869 defensive snaps and made his first Pro Bowl appearance after posting six sacks for the second consecutive year.

Entering a contract year in 2020, Clark had to make the best of unusual circumstances this offseason in preparation for his fifth NFL season. With his usual training facility, ProActive, closed for a time, Clark independently lifted tires, pulled buses and did whatever he could to keep his training on schedule.

Thankful for his family's health, Clark said he never considered opting out this season. Instead, he returned this week to a surreal scene at Lambeau Field with sanitizer stations everywhere and mask mandates throughout the facility.

"It's different but it's pretty cool. I'm just excited to be back in the locker room," Clark said. "The defensive line, we still have our same meeting room. We're spread out a lot more. Even like the team meetings, the defensive meetings with everybody in there, we do some of those in the CRIC and stuff like that, so we're able to spread out and keep our distance away from guys."

The Packers left the defensive line relatively unchanged this offseason. General Manager Brian Gutekunst signed veteran Treyvon Hester but decided against drafting a defensive lineman, a first in 24 years for the Packers.

Instead, Green Bay expects to see growth from a young defensive line that returns everyone from last season, including Clark, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams and 2019 fifth-round draft choice Kingsley Keke.

As many strides as the defense made under coordinator Mike Pettine, there was a somewhat bitter aftertaste to the season after the Packers allowed 285 rushing yards in their 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Clark openly admits it was "the wrong time to have the worst game," but he still believes Green Bay has the right pieces in place to take another step under Pettine in 2020. Clark's message thus far has been understanding it's not good enough to just do your job – it's about working together to make the unit better.

"There were stretches where we were dominant against the run," Clark said. "I think we do have the guys in the room. I think our scheme is great. Coach puts us in a lot of situations where we can win one-on-ones in the run and the pass. We've just got to capitalize. It's going to a mentality."

Individually, Clark hopes to get the respect he feels his game deserves and the only way to make that happen is to continue to lead by example on defense and hone his skills even further.

"I gotta get back to work and just keep proving myself again this year," Clark said. "I plan on having another great year and hopefully they see that this year."

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