The Packers gained a huge piece of the defensive puzzle in the 2016 NFL draft when Kenny Clark was selected. The 6’3, 314 lb defensive lineman had impressed a lot of scouts around the league with his size and ability to control gaps. I was absolutely thrilled when he landed in Green Bay. I knew he was a solid player who could be a reliable interior defensive lineman. Last year he turned a lot of heads and took a big leap forward in his play. I believe that Clark will be heavily depended on this coming season to play at the nose tackle spot, and for good reasons. Lets take a look at some of the things he did well last year and some things to be optimistic for this coming season.
Playing the Run
Lets look first off at the way Clark plays the run. He comes out here lined up in his standard 1 technique. In the 1 tech Clark simply shades one side of the center and is responsible for the A gap. There are so many things he does in this play that I like. It doesn’t look like much, but it pays off big time in the run game.
The first thing I notice is his arm length. A good defensive lineman gets full extension. The more space that the defensive line can separate between them and the offensive line the better. It is all about hand placement and who gets the first punch in the trenches. If Clark can get his hands on the offensive lineman before the offensive lineman reaches him then Clark should win the battle. When creating separation like this is sets up well for the block shed move. Clark doesn’t need to shed in this particular film clip but he controls his man at the line of scrimmage.
The next thing I notice is the feet. Notice how he plays everything squared up. If he was to get turned in this play the offensive lineman could wash him out of the play. Because he is square though, he can take the lineman where he wants him.
The last thing of course is the tackle. I marked this down as an effort play. It would be easy to let the running back slip by, but Clark gets an arm out and gets the tackle. Effort is what separates the good from the great.
Speaking of effort, this clip shows just how much of it Clark gives. Cleveland comes out in 21 personnel and runs a simple stretch play to the short side. The run initially goes away from Clark, who again is lined up in his 1 technique. He plays this perfectly. The thing about him is that he plays everything down the line, like he does here. When I say ‘down the line’ what I mean is that he takes a good, short, flat angle to the ball carrier. If a defensive lineman bubbles out any and gives ground he can be easily driven out of the play.
What amazes me is what Clark does at the end of the play. Flow goes away from him, he pivots, sheds the block, and gets the tackle. This is a tackle that the backside linebackers should usually make, but Clark is the first to initiate contact. Again, it would be easy for some guys to give up on the play vs a cutback, so I really admire the hustle here.
Playing the Pass
Lets take a look now at Clark’s pass rushing ability. Last year he had 4.5 sacks, but the stats don’t always tell the whole story. Clark does a lot of good things to get pressure on the quarterback. In this clip, he lines up in the 3 technique. We don’t see him in the 3 much, usually because Daniels is there. Notice how he is slightly tilted pre-snap. The tilt technique can allow for a good rush because of a better angle toward the quarterback. The tilt is also harder for an offensive lineman to block. I really like the hands on the rush. It’s a quick 1-2 swat and rip move which puts him in the offensive backfield. Again, all while taking a good angle. As important as the hand placement is when playing the run it is almost more important when rushing the passer. He has shown time and time again his quickness off of the line of scrimmage and the ability to bring the hands with him when he rushes.
This was one of the craziest plays of the 2017 season. Who would have thought we’d ever see Dean Lowry score a touchdown? From the 35 yard line at that. What lead up to that sack was the main thing though. Here we see the Packers come out in base personnel. Clark, lined up in the shade, again gets a good ball get off at the snap. Again he shows us that he can be a relentless rusher. Initially, Clark is taking on a double team. He feels pressure from the blocks, spins to the wide side and finds the quarterback.
I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the spin move. I never have been, be it a rushing linebacker or a defensive lineman. I feel like when you turn your back to the offensive line that it gives them a good target to wash the rusher out of the play. Clark does it so quickly though that he rush isn’t altered. The thing that has impressed me so much when I go back and watch tape on him is his vision. He has good awareness and always knows where the ball is.
I had a coach tell me once “If you ever feel like you’re the greatest pass rusher in the world then it’s probably a screen.” I’m sure Clark head that at one point in his football career and stuck with it. He sniffs this one out from the snap and reads the screen immediately. He takes everything away from the quarterback on this play. One of the hardest adjustments for a quarterback to make is where to go with the ball on a screen play if the look is taken away by the defense. Things like this show me that Clark is a smart player. It is the little things like this that can really disrupt a drive for the offense.
I’m extremely excited for training camp this season. One position group I’ll be keeping a close eye on is the defensive line. It just seems like there is so much optimism at the position this year. With Clark at the nose tackle and Daniels and Wilkerson playing defensive end I think it is safe to say that others feel the same as I do. Look for Kenny Clark to take an even bigger step forward this coming season.
Follow me on Twitter for Packers film breakdown and analysis: @PTTF_ChalkTalk