Packers Preview Series: Defensive Line

Here’s some info you will ask yourself as training camp approaches:

Last week I previewed the Packers Offensive Line by telling the world what was already known. David Bakhtiari is the best offensive lineman in the league and that’s a cold, hard fact.

Speaking of monsters, today I look across the line and preview the Packers’ Defensive Line; which might be the most intriguing collection of position battles on the entire roster come training camp.

This offseason has gotten fairly high marks from second-year GM Brian Gutekunst, especially from the D-line room. Adding edge rushers Za’Darius and Preston Smith in free agency and drafting perhaps the player with the highest upside in the entire draft, Rashan Gary, was more than enough to get the Packers a crop of young and veteran talent heading into training camp.

Here’s the full list of defensive linemen that will be fighting for a spot on the roster in a few short weeks:

EDGE: Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kyler Fackrell, Rashan Gary, Kendall Donnerson, Reggie Gilbert, Greg Roberts (UDFA), Randy Ramsey (UDFA)

Interior: Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams, Fadol Brown, Kingsley Keke (Rookie), James Looney

First of all, I hate that the accepted term for a defensive end/outside linebacker has become EDGE, but I do like that I don’t have to type out that mess of a position name, so EDGE it is.

All stupid titles aside, the Packers are returning a solid core that is highlighted by the biggest Pro Bowl snub of last season, Kenny Clark, and the proven veteran leader, Mike Daniels.

Clark had 55 tackles to go with 6 sacks last season and the Packers picked up his 5th-year option this offseason. Daniels has battled some injuries but is always productive when on the field. It’s worth noting Daniels is in a contract year, so I expect some big things from him in the ’19-20 season.

Brian Gutekunst made a hard call this offseason, not re-signing Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and whether you agree with the call or not, the Packers defense upgraded in a big way with the Smith’s coming on board.

Za’Darius played for the Ravens most recently, racking up 8.5 sacks and 25 QB hits; which earned him a 4-year, $66 million contract. Preston, the other Smith, came over from Washington after recording 4 sacks and 16 QB hits; which earned him a 4-year, $52 million contract.

They combined for 113 total pressures and did so on 869 total rushes last season. They’re both 26 years old and are expected to be tearing up opposing backfields for years to come in Green Bay.

Last year’s sack leader, Kyler Fackrell, came out of nowhere to record 10.5 sacks. Fackrell is coming into a contract year and will be looking to prove his worth to either the Packers or his next team in 2020.

Rashan Gary, the biggest question mark on the Packers’ roster, will be the talk of camp no matter how he performs. There is serious upside with Gary, like Jadaveon Clowney or even

Khalil Mack upside, but he has a lot to prove. Here’s to hoping he reads all these blogs questioning him and uses it to motivate him.

Gary might get moved around more than any defensive player the Packers have had in quite some time; which is fine by me. It works pretty well in Houston with Clowney, maybe they’ll take a page out of their playbook. Gary didn’t record that many sacks in college, and I don’t expect him to in Green Bay either.

The others behind Smith, Smith and Gary are Kendall Donnerson and Greg Roberts. Donnerson was an undrafted free agent last year with stellar athleticism and has a good chance at making it on the roster as a special teams player. Roberts is less likely to make the roster but would make a good practice squad player as he develops.

The interior is a lot less flashy and not nearly as recognizable. Aside from Clark and Daniels, Dean Lowry is the only player who has made any significant impact for the Packers. Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams, Fadol Brown, Kingsley Keke (Rookie), and James Looney all look to make their presence felt this camp.

Montravius Adams, much like last year, has the most to prove on this defensive unit. He has excellent athleticism and has shown flashes of playmaking abilities, but he’s constantly injured. The Packers may choose to move on from the former 3rd-rounder if he doesn’t impress early.

Lancaster turned some heads down the stretch last year, playing significant snaps in the last six games of the season. He looks to build on that campaign and carve out a steady role for Mike Pettine’s defense.

For Brown and Looney, their work is cut out for them as the Packers drafted Kingsley Keke in the 5th round this year. Keke moved from inside to out at Texas A&M, and it paid dividends. He could be a potential replacement for Mike Daniels, hopefully, years down the road.

With the amount of depth the Packers have compiled on the defensive front, it’s clear that Mike Pettine will be doing all he can to keep his play-making linemen fresh, preserving them for the ends of games.

The Eagles certainly used this strategy during their Superbowl campaign, and most famously, the Legion of Boom in Seattle was perhaps the best example of the constant rotation of defensive linemen.

The defensive line has a strong core inside and lots of potential for big plays outside. I have high hopes for this squad, with my only reservations being the injury bug and our shiny, new EDGE rushers not living up to the hype. You can expect some big plays out of this squad this year, regardless of who’s on the field.

Next time I’m looking at my favorite position on the team, the Tight Ends.

Are you excited for the D-line? Or nervous as hell? Let me know!

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