The defense of the Green Bay Packers haven’t played well in many seasons. That statement isn’t much of a “hot take”. That is why head coach Mike McCarthy replaced longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers with former Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine after last season. Pettine has a lot of work to do to get the Packers defense back to being respectable. But not all of what Pettine has to work with is doom and gloom. One part of the Packers defense that should help Pettine out is their defensive line. The Green Bay Packers defensive line has potential to be special.
Defensive Line of the Green Bay Packers Has Potential to Be Special
Not only will the Packers have a new defensive coordinator, but they will also have a new defensive line coach. Capers wasn’t the only defensive assistant to lose his job this off-season. Longtime defensive line coach Mike Trgovac was also shown the door. Although the Packers defensive line didn’t seem like the issue, McCarthy felt it was necessary to move on from Trgovac. With the departure of Trgovac, the Packers promoted Jerry Montgomery to head defensive line coach.
Montgomery has been with the Packers since being hired prior to the 2015 season. Before coming to Green Bay, Montgomery spent all of his coaching career in the college ranks. From 2007-2014, Montgomery was the defensive line coach at Northern Iowa, Wyoming, Michigan, and finally Oklahoma. It appeared that Montgomery was headed back to the college ranks. This off-season, it was reported that Montgomery would join Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff. But Montgomery had a change of heart when McCarthy offered him a promotion with the Packers.
Staying in the pro ranks most likely played a part in Montgomery’s decision. But the talent he will have to work with must have factored in as well. The returning pieces Green Bay has is another major part of why the Packers defensive line has potential to be special.
Returning to the Packers defensive line this season are veteran Mike Daniels and two up and coming third year players in Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry. All three have the potential to be major contributors for the Packers this season.
Daniels has the most experience, and ability, to be the leader of this group. Although Daniels has a penchant for talking too much, he does back it up with his play. In his six year career, the undersized defensive lineman has registered 27 sacks. His low center of gravity and the push he is able to create from his brute strength has made it very difficult for opposing offensive lineman to contain him.
For Clark, he is coming off a career season. Only in his second season as a professional, the former first round draft choice had 32 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and four and a half sacks. What is even more impressive, he battled an ankle injury last season and still put up those numbers. Clark is only 22 years old and has yet to reach his full potential.
In the same draft that brought Clark to the Packers, it also brought Lowry. At 6’6” tall, he is the tallest of the three defensive lineman. Last season, Lowry registered two sacks and 32 total tackles. Lowry has the size and ability to line up in the interior as well as on the edge for the Packers.
Joining the trio is an unknown commodity. The Packers spent a third round pick on Auburn product Montravius Adams in 2017. Adams was a high school all American and a five star recruit. He had an underwhelming career at Auburn, but has great athletic ability. Adams was a non-factor last season for the Packers. He battled injuries prior to the start of the regular season and only registered two tackles. It will be up to Montgomery to unleash the potential of Adams. If he can, Adams will be another piece to the Packers defensive line.
Wilkerson will be playing in his eighth season as a professional. While playing for the Jets during his first seven season, he put up 44.5 sacks. The former first round pick has shown that he can line up in the interior as well as the edge and produce in both spots. When motivated, Wilkerson has shown he is capable of being one of the best defensive lineman in the league.
However, getting Wilkerson to play up to his ability has been an issue. While with the Jets, he struggled with playing hard on every play and it was reported he had issues with being on time for team meetings. Gutekunst and the Packers are banking on Pettine, who was Wilkerson’s defensive coordinator for the Jets early in Wilkerson’s career, getting Wilkerson back to his pro bowl level.
Wilkerson should be a major piece in Pettine’s defense. Pettine is known for jumping between 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Wilkerson has the ability to play inside in a 3-4 and as a defensive end in a 4-3. When Pettine shifts to a 4-3 look, Wilkerson can line up at one defensive end, Nick Perry at the other, with Daniels and Clark manning the two defensive tackle positions. It would also shift linebacker Clay Matthews to a stand-up linebacker position. Wilkerson has the flexibility to allow Pettine to get his best pass rushers on the field all at once.
Improving the Pass Rush
The Packers cornerback play has been the weak link of their defense. Even with signing Tramon Williams, re-signing Davon House, and drafting Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, it isn’t a sure bet things will improve. However, having an elite pass rush could help out the secondary tremendously.
Pettine has the talent on the defensive front to create an elite pass rush for the Packers this season. But he will not only need to make sure his schemes are proper, he will need to get the most out of the talent, especially from Wilkerson and Adams. If Pettine succeeds, the Packers might have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. It will also help get the Packers defense back to the level that is needed for the Green Bay to get back to a Super Bowl.