GREEN BAY – Tyler Lancaster is used to this role by now.
With very little buzz coming from Plainfield East (Ill.) High School, the Packers’ rookie has trusted a familiar cycle of patience and preparation to guide him throughout his football career.
It led to Lancaster becoming one of the unsung heroes at Northwestern. As a senior, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive tackle received the school’s coveted No. 1 jersey, the football program’s highest honor as selected by the Wildcats’ locker room.
Although there were rumblings about his draft prospects, especially after he put up 36 bench-press reps at NFL Scouting Combine, Lancaster was neither distraught nor disillusioned when he went undrafted in the spring.
After years of having to work for every snap he’s ever earned, Lancaster was ready to do it again after signing with Green Bay as a college free agent.
“That’s pretty much been my mantra for every year – I feel like I’m always the underdog,” Lancaster said. “I mean going into my junior year into my senior year (of high school), I was unranked with no offers. Then, I started getting a couple (Mid-American Conference) offers and I started camping around at places. Northwestern was the first Power Five offer I got and I took it right away.”
Lancaster made a strong bid earlier this summer to make the Packers’ 53-man roster, but came up short at arguably the team’s deepest positional group. Lancaster had offers to join other practice squads throughout the NFL, but told his agent from the get-go he wanted to stay in Green Bay.
His reason was two-fold. First, the Packers were the only NFL team to bring him in as one of their 30 official visits during the pre-draft process. Secondly, he’s not a quitter. If Green Bay wanted him back, Lancaster wanted to see it through.
Lancaster’s stint on the practice squad would last a month. He was promoted to the active roster on Oct. 6, two weeks after the defense lost veteran Muhammad Wilkerson for the season to a broken ankle he sustained against Washington in Week 3.
After working his way into the rotation, Lancaster recently became a defensive starter in the wake of Mike Daniels (foot) and Kenny Clark (elbow) having to join Wilkerson on IR.
Filling Clark’s void at nose tackle over the past two games, Lancaster has racked up 11 tackles (eight solo) in 98 defensive snaps. Despite not having their three preferred starters, the Packers’ run defense has allowed only 147 yards on 49 carries (3.0 yards per attempt) over the past two weeks.
“Tyler, for sure, has been ahead of where I was when I was a rookie,” said Clark recently. “He’s doing a great job. The coaches trust him. We trust him. He’s everywhere he’s supposed to be and playing the run great.”
Following Lancaster’s disruptive six-tackle performance against Chicago two weeks ago, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine praised Lancaster for being “close to dominant.”
Lancaster appreciates the compliment, but it doesn’t change his mindset. He still feels every part the undrafted free agent who must prove on every snap he’s worth keeping around.
“It’s pretty awesome knowing my coaches have more trust in me now, but I really try to push that back,” Lancaster said. “Because the next week, I could have a horrible week. I really try to ignore anything positive or negative on the outside and focus on what my game can be.”
Lancaster knows he’s a run-down defensive lineman right now, no different than the position Clark held down during his rookie season back in 2016. Moving forward, it’s his goal to round out his game for more involvement with the interior pass rush.
At the same time, Lancaster can appreciate how far he’s come over the past eight months in Green Bay.
“It is wild, but I’ve talked to my previous college coaches and my agent, it’s kind of panned out exactly how we put it down on paper,” Lancaster said. “Coming in as an undrafted guy, we knew it would be an uphill battle. We knew that there was an eventuality in the league where guys go down and my opportunity will come. Maybe not this year, maybe next year … but as long as I keep working, things will go better. Really, it has been exactly what we planned where I’d be thrust into a role I’ve prepared for.”