New additions could create more opportunities for Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry

Packers veterans excited about emerging defensive line’s potential

DL Kenny Clark

GREEN BAY – "Workload" typically has been a popular buzzword whenever the topic of the Packers' defensive line comes up this time of year.

While Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry have been ironmen throughout their tenures in Green Bay, the challenge for the Packers has been striking the balance between getting their top two defensive linemen on the field and also keeping them fresh.

This offseason, the Packers may have perfected the recipe.

Finding reinforcements on the defensive line was an obvious point of emphasis for Green Bay, as the Packers not only added a proven veteran in Jarran Reed but also used a first-round pick to draft Georgia's Devonte Wyatt.

Toss in promising 2021 fifth-round pick T.J. Slaton and the Packers have perhaps their deepest defensive line in a decade – and that has Clark and Lowry excited about the possibilities.

"It makes my life easier," Clark said. "At the beginning of the year, we talk about they want to take as many snaps off me as possible. At the end of the year … I'm playing 70 or 80% of the snaps. So, they're trying to find a way to give me more rest, so when I do get in on third down, it's hard to stop me when I'm coming back on the field fresh."

Clark and Lowry earned their paychecks last season, combining for nearly 60% of the defensive line's entire playing time in 2020 (1,548 of 2,621 defensive snaps), including playoffs.

Lowry, who set career highs in sacks (five), quarterback hits (nine) and pass deflections (four), currently owns the longest streak for consecutive games played (86) among all active NFL defensive linemen. He's still yet to miss a game due to injury.

Meanwhile, Clark made his second Pro Bowl in 2021 after recording 42 tackles, 13 QB hits and four sacks. A stout nose tackle against the run and penetrating interior rusher on third downs, it's been tough to keep Clark off the field. He's played at least 650 defensive snaps in four of his last five seasons.

The 6-foot-3, 313-pound Reed could help ease that burden. In addition to serving as the third D-lineman on the first-team base so far in camp, Reed also has 24½ career sacks to his name.

"The biggest thing I would say is we're all versatile," Lowry said. "Kenny has been a nose tackle, obviously. He's the best in the business but he can play three technique, four technique. Jarran and I can both play across the line of scrimmage. Just having three stable guys with that ability, I think is really huge for our defense."

A member of the same 2016 draft class that produced Clark and Lowry, Reed has rivaled them in terms of durability with only eight missed games over the past six seasons.

The seventh-year veteran looked the part during his first practice in pads, disrupting a couple run plays during Monday's move-the-ball period against the No. 1 offense.

The rookie Wyatt also got off to a good start, displaying both explosiveness and power during the one-on-one pass rush period. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Wyatt came to Green Bay with high expectations after amassing an impressive 70 pressures in 49 games (25 starts) with the Bulldogs.

Just one week into camp, Wyatt has the attention of the veterans in his room while working alongside Slaton and Jack Heflin on the second-team defensive front.

"Wyatt, right away, flashes in pass rush," Lowry said. "He has great instincts when it comes to knowing how to beat guys one-to-one and just knowing how to react to blocks."

What's more, the Packers also bring back the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Slaton who was thrown into the fire as a rookie fifth-round pick last year. Both Clark and Lowry praised Slaton for the improvements he made not only during 2021 but also the team's offseason program this past spring.

With Slaton and rookie seventh-round pick Jonathan Ford (6-5, 338), the Packers have two monstrous candidates who could possibly take some early-down reps off the starters.

And the more linemen the Packers develop in the rotation, the more flexibility it gives defensive coordinator Joe Barry with how he utilizes Clark and Lowry.

While Clark still calls first and second down "my bread and butter," the two-time Pro Bowler also admits it's exciting to think about the possibility of moving around the defensive front more in 2022.

"It's cool because it gives me a chance to not just be in the middle and offenses knowing where to key in on me at the nose tackle position," Clark said. "I can move around, play three (technique) and make an impact that way. Because I can play three at a high level, too."

Lowry feels likewise. With his confidence at all-time high, the 6-foot-6, 296-pound defensive end feels like he showed last season that he can be a factor in the pass rush moving forward.

With playmakers at all three levels of the defense, the Packers are hopeful a unit that finished in the top 10 in total defense last year can take yet another step in 2022.

"I feel like we're loaded everywhere," Clark said. "You got great DBs. You got a great front, great linebackers. We're fast. We can do a little bit of everything. I think we're all just a stout defense at all the levels."

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