There is a reason for the cliche’ “The game is won or lost in the trenches”. The Packers for the last few years have relied on Mike Daniels to head up the defensive line and give it the attitude and pocket crushing presence that they need. To that mix they have added guys here or there from free agency and the draft. The Packers’ defensive line in 2017 could be the deepest we have seen in a long time and it all starts with the “heart” of a 3-4 defense.
The Packers play a sub-package defense but the base is a 3-4 and that requires big, street-fighting defensive linemen who control 2 gaps and are still able to compress the pocket. Mike Daniels allows the Packers to get that kind of presence with just two down linemen from time to time. His bruising, mauling ways, built on strength, attitude, and unbeatable leverage give him the ability to take on not just two linemen but two linemen plus a running back and drive them all back in the direction of the quarterback who sees nothing but linebackers breathing down his neck.
The Packers’ “Big Three” will likely be Daniels, Francois, and Kenny Clark this year. We all know what Daniels can do but further discussion of the other two anchors of our 3-4 seems appropriate.
Ricky Jean Francois
The signing of Ricky Jean Francois from Washington should be a nice addition, particularly to the run defense. Francois has played with some great defenses in the past and while not a stud in the prime of his career, Francois should key off Daniels’ toughness and add an edge to the interior line. The signing of Francois reminds me of the signing of Ryan Pickett more than 10 years ago. His signing didn’t get much press but his presence helped the Packers win a Super Bowl.
Francois adds a veteran presence, football savvy, and attitude to a defense that has been needing attitude for awhile. The defensive front will have a big say in whether Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have big years and I for one like what Francois brings. At 6’3″ and 313 pounds he is “prototypical” for a 3-4 defensive lineman. Big, and hard to move, Francois should be able to take on O-linemen and with his experience should be very gap-sound. That is what we need on a draft and develop team that has a couple young second year players who need role models.
Head coach Mike McCarthy in a press conference earlier this month said that second year first round pick Kenny Clark was “crushin’ it” in the weight room. Clark flashed serious ability with a tackle for loss in the week 7 matchup against the Bears and an important tackle on Zeke Elliott in the Divisional round game against the Cowboys last year.
Clark is a big, strong, low and well-leveraged defensive lineman who should take a big leap in his second year. Clark can be a dynamic player and seems to have taken on just a bit of the Mike Daniels attitude in his rookie campaign. Expect him to add to that this year while also getting stronger and dialing up the “nasty”.
A good rotation
The three players at the “heart” of the defensive line are not the be-all end-all. The Packers will rely on a rotation to keep their base guys fresh. Don’t sleep on Dean Lowry, because the Packers’ coaching staff certainly has big plans for the big guy. Lowry has been moved around and tried out more outside and it seems they are looking at him as a possible pass-rusher and looking to get him closer to the edge. he is very big for an “elephant” but it seems the Packers have something that they want to see out of the big, long, strong lineman. Look for Lowry to be used creatively moving forward.
The Packers’ third round draft pick Montravius Adams at 6’3″ and 306 pounds is another player whose development should elicit considerable excitement from Packer Nation. Adams has already garnered accolades for his quick feet and hands and with training camp and a full pre-season schedule ahead of him, should have a chance to develop into a good rotational guy in his first year. If he develops more quickly, he could be a serious addition to a formidable defense.
With all that said, LeTroy Guion is set to return after his four game suspension this year. If the Packers decide to keep him, he could be a fresh addition to the rotation that may be an unexpected benefit in 2017. Guion drew the ire of many in Packer Nation with another suspension but when he is in the game he brings great attitude and he is a veteran player.
Training camp will certainly bring a lot of competition to the defensive line of the Green Bay Packers, and anything can happen, but I expect whoever is at the heart of our defensive line, they will bring a new attitude. The battle is won in the trenches, and the Packers’ trenches both offense and defense, look fairly deep and also young with enough veteran presence to get the job done.
It will all start to sort itself out come the end of July.