GREEN BAY – Kenny Clark played his first 26 NFL regular-season games without a sack.
Then once he got his first one, he didn’t stop.
Rebounding much faster from a mid-November ankle injury than anyone expected last year, Clark recorded his first 4½ pro sacks over the final five games of 2017, sending him into his third season with a monkey off his back, a lot of confidence, and a plan.
“Try to get some sacks earlier in the year,” Clark joked upon embarking on the Packers’ 2018 Tailgate Tour, which is now in its fourth day.
“I’m really excited about the growth in myself and the improvements I made. I’m excited for it. I can’t wait until next season and can’t wait to get back in the weight room and start working with the guys, and get back in the playbook.”
Offseason workouts will start next Monday, and that will coincide with introductions to new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s playbook and new defensive linemate Muhammad Wilkerson.
Clark likened this offseason to going back to “square one” as far as the classroom goes, but he couldn’t be happier that defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery is back on the staff after initially taking a job at Texas A&M.
He’s also fired up about Wilkerson, a free-agent signee formerly of the Jets when Pettine ran their defense, joining a D-line group that also includes Pro Bowler Mike Daniels, the rising Dean Lowry, and 2017 third-round draft pick Montravius Adams.
“We have a lot of good defensive linemen, a lot of good depth and a lot of competition, too,” Clark said. “It’s only going to make us better.”
Clark got better by getting adjusted to the speed of the game, he said. The 2016 first-round draft pick out of UCLA finished his rookie season strong and was having an impressive second year as a disrupter up front, even if he didn’t officially have the sacks to show for it.
Take a look at photos of Packers DT Kenny Clark from the 2017 season. Photos by Evan Siegle and Corey Wilson, packers.com
He confessed when he was carted off Lambeau Field in a Week 11 loss to Baltimore that he wondered if he’d finish his first two NFL seasons without a sack.
Turned out he had nothing to worry about, as he surprisingly missed just one game and then made his first sack really count. He stripped Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston of the ball, which Lowry snagged in midair and ran back for a touchdown.
From there, Clark added a half-sack of Winston, a full sack of Carolina’s Cam Newton and two of Minnesota’s Case Keenum before season’s end.
“When I finally capitalized on my first one, they started rolling in,” he said. “That’s what everyone says, when you get your first one, they should start coming.”
The binge bodes well for Clark heading into Year 3 as one of several Green Bay defensive linemen capable of generating inside pressure.
That appears to be a priority for Pettine given the track record of his defenses and the acquisition of Wilkerson, though Clark said the message from his initial conversation with the new coordinator wasn’t about specifics.
It was more about mindset.
“We’re going to play hard,” Clark said. “We’re going to do our job. We’re going to try to be great.”