GREEN BAY, Wis. – A healthy Kenny Clark is a Kenny Clark that’s hard to keep out of the backfield.
Clark started all 16 games in 2019 and was routinely dominant. He posted six sacks and 11 stuffs (a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage vs. the run). His 89 tackles gave him a tackle rate of 9.8 snaps. His average tackle, according to Sports Info Solutions, was 1.9 yards downfield.
Headed into 2020, Clark envisioned the next step of his career and the Packers paid for it with a four-year, $70 million extension to the 24-year-old dominator. Instead, Clark suffered a groin injury in the opener at Minnesota that kept him out of three games. In 13 games, he had two sacks and three stuffs – the latter figure as many as Montravius Adams, of all people. His 41 tackles gave him a tackle rate of 14.5 snaps. His average tackle of 2.6 yards downfield was the worst of his career.
Clark is healthy and ready to impose his will again for a unit led by new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
“Every time I’m healthy, my play and my season speaks for itself,” Clark said after Thursday’s practice. “When I’m healthy, I’m doing great. With my groin, it was like a fluky situation. I tried to do a cross chop, my foot slid on the ground like it does all the time, and it just popped. But toward the end of the season, started playing how I usually play and happy how I finished off the season.”
He's right about that. After two sacks in the regular season, he had 2.5 in the playoffs. Of his 32 total pressures (including playoffs), 17 came during the final four regular-season games and the two playoff clashes, according to Pro Football Focus. He dominated against Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game. His eight tackles resulted in a net gain of 8 yards. His 11 playoff tackles resulted in minus-4 yards, thanks to 1.5 sacks vs. the Rams.
The playoff binge was part of a career of hot finishes. In five seasons, he’s recorded 18.5 sacks in the regular season. With the shared sacks, he’s had a hand in 20 quarterback takedowns. Eleven of those have come in December. Plus, he’s had a hand in four sacks in January playoff games.
“That’s somewhat of trend for me,” he said. “I’ll be playing good throughout the season but, toward the end of the season, I really just start turning it on for some reason. I don’t know why that is what it is, but that’s just it.”
Clark was incredibly explosive going through individual drills on Thursday. The pads won’t go on until Monday. Those battles against the offensive line, of course, are when a defensive lineman can really hone his craft. But even in these shorts-and-helmets sessions, there is work to be done fine-tuning fundamentals. Before practice, there was Clark, all alone, working his moves against a big dummy.
“As long as I’m healthy, whoever is across from me is going to get my best every play,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself and how I play the game and the style I play. So, my main focus is just getting better, getting better, working on all the stuff I need to work on, stay sharp in my techniques, and play with that aggressive mind-set, play with that fire and just staying healthy. Because when I’m healthy, all that speaks for itself.”