The defense of the Green Bay Packers once again is struggling to carry their end of the bargain. This shouldn’t be anything new to Packers fans; the defense has struggled for quite some time, being carried by Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense. However, there is one member of the Packers defense that has done his part. Defensive lineman Kenny Clark has been a bright spot for the Green Bay Packers.
Kenny Clark – Green Bay Packers Defensive Bright Spot
There isn’t much glory for nose tackles who play in a 3-4 defensive alignment. A lot of credit and publicity go to defensive players who make the standout plays, such as sacks, interceptions, and big hits. Those types of plays rarely come from nose tackles in a 3-4 as their job is to eat up blockers, clog running lanes, and allow the linebackers or players in the back end of the defense make those types of plays. But without those players, the grunts of the defense, doing the dirty work, those players don’t make those types of plays.
Clark has done the dirty work and he has done it at a high level so far this season. When Clark was drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Packers envisioned the type of player former nose tackle B.J. Raji was for them from 2009-2015. When Raji abruptly retired in the spring of 2016, the Packers lost the type of player they needed for the middle of their defensive line. That is when they selected Clark.
In his rookie season, Clark was forced into action early and had his struggles. Because UCLA, the college Clark attended, is on the quarter system, he was prevented from joining the Packers for mini camps. At only 20 years of age, Clark had to play catch up in training camp and his had some struggles. But towards the end of the 2016-2017, Clark was finally starting to show why he was selected in the first round. Clark’s work from 2016-2017 continued into OTA’s this off-season, where head coach Mike McCarthy commented that he was “crushing it”. That work and effort has now poured into this season.
Clark’s Play is Benefiting Others
Clark’s play this season isn’t just being noticed by the Packers coaching staff. After the Packers loss to the New Orleans Saints, Pro Football Focus highlighted Clark’s play. PFF pointed out Clark’s three total pressures and three defensive stops, with giving Clark a 90.0 grade for the game. PFF has an overall 87.9 grade for Clark this season, up from the 77.5 grade he had the previous season.
Clark already has more total tackles this season (15) than he did all of last season (13). To go along with his tackles and clogging the middle of the line of scrimmage, Clark has forced a fumble. But Clark’s play goes deeper than just his own stats. With Clark eating up blockers, it has allowed linebacker Blake Martinez’s play to improve.
After Martinez’s rookie season, many had speculated that Packers general manager Ted Thompson once again missed on selecting a linebacker. Martinez’s play struggled, with being eaten up by blockers and not allowed to make the tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. But with Clark’s standout performance this season and him taking sometimes up to two blockers, it has freed up Martinez to make more plays. Just like with Clark, Martinez already has matched his tackles from last season (47) and his sack total (one).
Packers Hope Clark’s Play Can Rub Off on His Teammates
Clark and fellow stout defensive lineman Mike Daniels are making quite a defensive line tandem. Both built similar and both having an amateur wrestling background, and both are utilizing their low center of gravity to cause havoc on opposing offensive lines. Daniels battled a hip injury earlier this season, putting more weight on Clark’s shoulders. But Daniels seems to be making his way back to full strength, which will only help Clark’s play. The Packers defense has a lot of issues, but you can’t blame Clark for those issues. Hopefully for the Packers and their fans, Clark’s play can rub off on the rest of the defense and salvage their season now that they are without Aaron Rodgers.