Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Kenny Clark has been the team’s best player at that position practically since he first joined the team. The former first-round pick out of UCLA has made the Pro Bowl twice and has been an elite interior defensive lineman who can stop the run effectively and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
For the last few years, scouts have viewed the Packers defensive line as a weak point on the team. It has been Clark and a bunch of very average players at best and the team’s struggles to stop the run are testimony to the truth behind this belief.
But this offseason, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst took several steps to address the talent and depth along the defensive line. Clark should be surrounded by more talented players after the addition of free agent signee Jarran Reed and first round draft pick Devonte Wyatt.
Here are five ways the Packers new depth along the line will help Kenny Clark in 2022 and beyond:
- More Plays Off
Let’s start with the simple stuff: with more talented players available to plug into the lineup, the Packers should be able to give Clark more plays off. This will keep the Pro Bowl lineman fresh and ready for key situations when the team needs him most.
Last season, Clark played 78 percent of the Packers defensive snaps in the 16 games he played. If the Packers can reduce that load to something in the upper 60s, it can keep Clark fresher in games and increase the odds of keeping him healthy later in the season.
It should also raise his ability to be effective during the plays he is out on the field.
- Fewer Double Teams
Prior to this season, opposing offenses knew that if they were going to double team any Packers defensive lineman, it was going to be Clark. That meant that on running plays, he either had to beat two blockers to make a play or occupy multiple blockers and hope one of his teammates could get to the ball carrier.
With the addition of more depth along the line, Clark should face fewer double teams. Teams will quickly realize that if they double team number 97, other players will be able to make plays. That means they will be likely to give fewer double teams. This should give him more opportunities to make plays himself, to penetrate the backfield more often and make tackles for losses or sacks.
- Clark Can Have More Flexibility As to Where He Lines Up
Prior to last season, Clark lined up at nose tackle in the middle of the defense most of the time. That number was reduced a bit in 2021 as new defensive coordinator Joe Barry had Clark line up on the outside of the defensive line more often, keeping him away from the center.
Expect more of that this year. T.J. Slaton will be in his second season with the team and he could take over the run stuffing nose tackle role that Clark often played. Wyatt can also line up in several different places along the defensive line and so can Reed.
By moving Clark around the defensive line, he can play slightly different roles and do more things within the confines of the defense.
- More Flexibility to Create Mismatches
Look for Barry to look to create more mismatches for Clark on key plays this season. With the addition of more talent that can line up in more positions comes more flexibility. Clark can line up on the nose or anywhere else along the defensive line.
Barry could seek to get Clark matched up against the opposing team’s most vulnerable offensive lineman. It could also create opportunities for Clark’s teammates because the defense has a better chance to dictate the matchups they want because of the increased talent level along the defensive line.
- Fewer Blitzes Needed
The addition of Wyatt and Reed gives the Packers two more defensive linemen who could get some pressure on the quarterback. That means the defense will rely less on their edge rushers to exclusively provide the pass rush and will have to blitz less often to disrupt the passing game.
It also allows the defense to keep the offense off balance. The Packers could use defensive linemen to rush the quarterback, or edge rushers or send inside linebackers or safeties. Some of these players will drop back into coverage and some will be coming but the offense will have to figure out who’s coming and who’s dropping back on every passing play.
Clark should be able to accumulate more sacks than he’s had in recent seasons. His career-high six sacks in a season, which he did in both 2018 and 2019, could be surpassed this year because of the additional talent along the defensive line and on the defense as a unit.
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