How big of a difference can Kenny Clark make? I think it can be a profound difference for a defense that needed backfield help and got it, but also has the benefit in Kenny Clark of an up-and-comer on the Packers defensive line. There are many reasons to believe that Clark will be better than last year, there are reasons to believe that an improvement from Clark can benefit the defense as a whole. Let’s dive right into some of them now.
1. Reasons to believe that Clark will improve
Kenny Clark will be in his second year which is important because that’s the year in which most players take the biggest jump from one year to the next. This improvement includes the mind and the body. Clark did well in his rookie year, with 21 tackles including sniffing out screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott in the Divisional Round against the Dallas Cowboys. Clark showed athleticism and improvement in his use of leverage. Unfortunately, that Cowboys game was practically the end of the season for Green Bay as we all know how the NFC Championship went. Clark was coming on at just the right time as a rookie but the season ended at just the wrong time. With a year under his belt, Kenny has been able to focus on his body and technique and should be in prime position to take the sophomore leap rather than hit a sophomore slump. According to Coach McCarthy, Clark has been “crushing it” in the weight room which bodes well for his body at a position where violent collision is the norm. I expect the 2017 version of Kenny Clark to have stronger hands, better leverage, and more stamina, which could be important to a player who can expect added reps from last year especially in the absence of Letroy Guion. But adding strength and/or bulk isn’t the only reason to believe that Clark will show improvement. There is another reason to think Clark will improve…Mike Daniels.
Mike Daniels is the unequivocal leader of the Packers’ d-line. He is a mauler, he is a talker, he is a fighter. Daniels’ attitude has an impact on young players like Kenny Clark and will drive him to succeed. Daniels’ presence will ensure that Clark does not rest in his laurels, he will push Clark to be great and envision himself getting that ring.
2. What the improvement of Clark will do
Many in Packer Nation were concerned with the defensive backfield (rightly so) this off-season. The addition of rookies Josh Jones and Kevin King along with the free agency re-acquisition of Davon House and (presumably) health of Randall, Rollins, and Gunter have made most of us feel much better. But the improvement of Kenny Clark will help the defensive backfield as well. Defensive linemen in a 3-4 base defense are not expected to get to the quarterback, they are expected to fill gaps and take up blockers. The linebackers behind them are supposed to get the sacks. Make no mistake, a sack is a bonus but those rare guys like Mike Daniels who can collapse a pocket under a double team are rare. But if Kenny Clark takes a step forward, he could become one of those guys. If that is the case, the Packers should be able to use a two down-lineman set and have a lot of LB’s and DB’s to get to the quarterback and/or get an INT. The ripple effect of growth from Kenny Clark could be profound.
In passing downs, I expect Francois to go out and if the Packers don’t go with 2 down-linemen, Dean Lowry will become the additional guy. But that is a topic for another edition of “The Difference Makers”. Clark, for his part will help the defense in either scenario. With his wide base and improved feet and hands, Kenny Clark looks to be the first round draft pick that the Packers were looking for when they drafted him.
3. The number one reason to expect Clark to be improved
There is one final reason to believe that Kenny Clark will become a difference-maker and it is one that not many second year players in the league have going for them. Kenny Clark went to the NFC Championship…as a rookie. While it doesn’t yield the satisfaction of a Super Bowl ring, Kenny Clark as a second year player is in the perfect situation and has the perfect motivation. He is on a team that has the best quarterback in the league. He is on a team where the defense is blamed for them not making it to the Super Bowl. But he is just starting out (second year) and he is strong, and now he knows exactly what it takes to win it all. But he is still hungry because he didn’t get there. Clark will be visualizing the Super Bowl that he came so close to playing in with every rep in the squat rack, every drill on the field, and every snap during the year. This motivation is much different than a second year player on a team that is just hoping to put them in a position to go to the playoffs. This is the motivation of a guy who knows what the expectation is, has been so close, and has an even better chance this year. This is the motivation of a difference maker.
How big of a step forward the Packers’ defense makes this year is critical to the team reaching its ultimate goal. Free agent acquisitions, rookies and the veterans will all have a chance to change the “same ole” story that the Packers have had for too many years (though it is a much better story than many other fans have to tell). Kenny Clark has a chance to be a difference maker and if he becomes that for the Packers, his improvement can have a far-reaching effect on the defense overall and an improvement on defense means an improvement in the Packers’ overall chances.