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Previewing Packers OTAs: Defensive Line

The Green Bay Packers have one of the best three-down defensive linemen in the business in Kenny Clark. Now, they added first-round pick Devonte Wyatt.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.

To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.

This series of positional previews continues with the defensive linemen.

The Sure Thing: Kenny Clark

Kenny Clark missed his flight to Green Bay for the start of OTAs. Life will go on.

Clark is a leader in the locker room and, most importantly, on the field. As was the case in 2019, Clark earned Pro Bowl honors in 2021 by rushing the passer and commanding double teams. He recorded 48 tackles, four sacks, six tackles for losses and 13 quarterback hits. That’s better than his 42 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses and six quarterback hits in 2020 but not quite as good as his 62 tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for losses and seven quarterback hits in 2021.

As a pass rusher, he was really good. While the sack total was nothing to write home about, he finished fourth interior defensive linemen with a career-high 67 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Clark was a workhorse, logging 80 percent playing time in 13 games. Clark isn’t Aaron Donald but he’s right in that next tier of dominating defensive linemen.

The Big Mystery: Devonte Wyatt’s Role

With the release of Kingsley Keke and with Tyler Lancaster not re-signed, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery entered the draft with only five players under contract. Asked what he was looking for from a potential draft pick, he said, “Ultimately, you would love to add a high-level third-down pass rusher. I think you (would like to) have a little bit twitchier guy that can add to the rush from that standpoint.”

Montgomery got exactly what he was looking for in the first round with Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt. While Wyatt had only 2.5 sacks as a senior, he finished 12th in PFF’s pass-rush productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. While he should provide some juice on passing downs, his play against the run will determine how much he plays in Year 1.

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“He can be really good on first and second down, and he’s an inside guy that has some unique traits as a pass rusher,” Montgomery said last week. “Some things you can’t teach, you just naturally have. He’s got twitch. I’d like to call it awkward movements; some movements he can be in that other guys can’t be and he can recover from those things. And he’s got a high motor – just a naturally high motor. So, really, really good defensive line traits.”

Worth Watching: Dean Lowry’s Future

Clark and Dean Lowry are the veterans of the unit, steady veteran Jarran Reed was signed in free agency, TJ Slaton made a limited contribution as a fifth-round rookie and Jack Heflin contributed almost nothing at all as an undrafted free agent.

To that quintet, general manager Brian Gutekunst added Wyatt in the first round, Jonathan Ford in the seventh round and Hauati Pututau and Akial Byers in college free agency.

Clark is a stud and Reed has a history of eating up snaps. If Wyatt plays as expected, Slaton shows he’s ready for more and Ford and/or Heflin proves he belongs, could the Packers move on from Lowry? The Packers are a long way from making that move, and the contract extension signed by cornerback Jaire Alexander alleviates the pressure to find some cap space, but moving on from Lowry would create a little more than $4 million. But first, the Packers need to find somebody from the bottom of the depth chart capable of playing quality snaps. That process will start this week.

Aaron Rodgers and the Quarterbacks

Jones, Dillon and the Running Backs

Allen Lazard and the Receivers

Robert Tonyan and the Tight Ends

Injured Knees and the Offensive Line