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Kenny Clark on a mission for Packers in 2023

In his mind, growth isn’t just for young players

DL Kenny Clark
DL Kenny Clark

GREEN BAY – For the Packers in 2023, the talk about players' growth and progress has focused mostly on the offensive side of the ball where so much youth resides.

Meanwhile, the team's longest-tenured defensive player is looking at making strides of his own, and he's not shy about pushing himself to do so.

"Personally what drives me, man, is I want to be great," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said Monday after the Packers' return-to-work practice following a three-day weekend break.

"I know I'm known as one of the best at my position, but I still feel like myself, I haven't reached my potential and what I can be. I still think I've got a lot more to unlock in my game, and I'm working tirelessly to do that."

That's saying something coming from a previous team captain and longtime defensive stalwart who over the last four seasons has made two Pro Bowls and missed just three of a possible 70 games, including playoffs.

As Clark, a first-round draft pick in 2016, enters his eighth season, he's coming off what he characterized last winter as a less-than-satisfying year. He drew the usual double-teams, beat them when he could, and took advantage of one-on-one matchups like he always has.

But in talking about the upcoming season, Clark sees "a lot more sacks" and "a lot more TFLs" out there for him. So how's he going to get them?

He vaguely referenced the defense applying a different approach up front as a whole. He also mentioned taking more breathers at certain points, so he's not on the field every snap for a long drive and sapping his legs for the crucial moments when his quickness and power off the ball are needed most.

All that combined with his own forward-thinking mindset and constant push, he believes, can make him an even better player.

"I feel like I can be just a lot more disruptive than what I already am," he said. "Hopefully with the plan that we've got and what we're doing on defense, I can be that even more for this defense.

"Really my motivation is I want to be the best. I want to be known as the best, not, like, oh … he's in the area where, ah, he can be good, he can be this, he can be that. I want to be All-Pro, I want to be a Pro Bowler. I want to be known as, when you see me, this is the best D-tackle."

Clark didn't bring up the name Aaron Donald, the Rams star and owner of three Defensive Player of the Year awards plus seven first-team All-Pro selections, but Donald's level is the nearly impossible bar he's trying to reach when it comes to interior defensive line play.

He also didn't make any grand proclamations about what this Packers defense can accomplish this year. The expectations haven't changed, but they haven't been voiced as publicly as last season when a rough first half in Week 1 at Minnesota foreshadowed three months of an up-and-down, rocky road that didn't smooth out until the stretch run.

This year's Week 1 is at another division rival, Chicago, and while the outside perception is a strong start by the defense could help while Green Bay's young offense with a new starting QB in Jordan Love figures some things out, Clark doesn't want his defensive mates thinking about that as some burden or load to shoulder.

"I just don't think it's a healthy way to look at it," he said. "We want to be dominant, but you just want to play your best ball, you know what I'm saying?"

And Clark knows him being at his best will be his most important contribution to the defense being at its best. That's a burden he'll gladly carry.

"I feel like I'm a dominant player," Clark said. "I feel like I'm a great player or whatever, but there's still so much more I can unlock in my game that can just help this defense."