GREEN BAY – By most measures, Packers defensive lineman Kenny Clark had a solid season in 2022. That's not how he views it, though.
He posted 53 tackles, his most since 2019, and four sacks, tying his total from a year ago when he earned his second Pro Bowl honor. He was voted a team captain for a second straight year and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.
But Clark entered the offseason dissatisfied not only with the Packers' 8-9 record that kept them out of the playoffs, but also with his own game, which he felt didn't measure up to the standard he's set for himself.
"It was up and down," Clark said the day after the season-ending loss to the Lions. "I wasn't too happy about how I performed in the run game for the most part all year. Pass rush, I think I started off fast, ended up doing a pretty good job.
"But just from what I'm accustomed to, probably just too much inconsistency."
To the 6-foot-3, 313-pound Clark, the "C" he wears on his jersey doesn't just signify his captaincy but stands for consistency as well. He's made that the calling card of his career since arriving as a first-round draft pick out of UCLA back in 2016, and he prides himself on being a quietly but effectively reliable force in the trenches his teammates can count on week after week.
Not being his steady, playmaking self definitely bothered Clark, because he feels it was a big reason the Packers' run defense fell to 26th in the league in yards allowed per game (139.5) and 28th in yards allowed per rush (5.0).
Statistically, he had seven games this past season with four or more tackles, but six with two or fewer. It's not that simple, though. Tackles aren't a measure of everything at his position, just as sacks aren't either, which defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery has recognized often over the years.
When Clark is taking on double-teams against the run and affecting the quarterback's comfort in the pocket on pass plays, he's doing his job and impacting the game. He just didn't feel he did that regularly enough to help the unit as a whole, and it's going to stick in his craw until the new season begins.
"I'm not that type of player, and that's not what I want to be known for is to be an inconsistent player," he said. "I think that will definitely motivate me this year.
"When I'm the anchor for this defense and being consistent, this defense plays at a different level, and I've got to be able to bring that each and every game."
He may have to do it in 2023 while leading a position group that'll look different.
Second-year pro T.J. Slaton (6-4, 330), a fifth-round draft pick out of Florida in 2021, saw his playing time and responsibility increase late in the season with Lowry injured, and he showed promise. He recorded 12 tackles over the last four games and deflected two passes in Week 17 vs. Minnesota, one leading to a pick-six by safety Darnell Savage.
But that "c" word, consistency, remains the first thing out of Montgomery's mouth anytime he's asked about Slaton. He's shown more of it, yet more is still being demanded.
Rookie Devonte Wyatt (6-3, 304), a first-round selection out of Georgia, took a while to find hit footing at the pro level but kept earning snaps as the season went on and made his biggest impact late in the year.
He recorded a half sack in Week 15 vs. the Rams and then his first full pro sack and forced fumble in the finale against Detroit, totaling three QB hits in all over the last four games. Defending the run and taking on potential double-teams will be a major focus for Wyatt in Year 2.
Another rookie, the massive Jonathan Ford (6-5, 338), was a seventh-round pick from Miami who was a gameday inactive all season.
The example Clark sets during games and in practices will remain invaluable if the Packers' defensive line is going to play the way its members need to. So while Clark works on leveling out his own game for 2023, his leadership will be called upon just as much if not more so than it ever has.
"It was very important having a veteran like that because I talk to a lot of other D-linemen and they don't really get as much help as I get from my vet," said Wyatt, who confessed to struggling with the transition to the pro game, and not enjoying the success and playing time he did in college. "He was just saying stop stressing yourself over it. Keep pushing yourself and keep going out with good effort.
"I love Kenny. He's always motivating me and keeping me going when I'm down. If he knows I'm down, he's like, 'Look, I understand. But let's work – me and you.' I watch him every day at practice and he's working."
Clark has taken notes of the strides made and will be looking for more from them, while commanding more from himself as well.
"It's going to be a lot of moving pieces," Clark said of the coming season. "When Dean got hurt, T.J. stepping into the nose role, he did a tremendous job, just standing in there, plugging things up, making plays. D-Wy was improving each and every game.
"We'll have to see what happens and how the coaches see fit and what spots they want to put guys, but I'm definitely proud of the progression that T.J. and D-Wyatt had the whole season, J-Ford. I'm excited about them next year."