The Green Bay Packers don’t need their rookie defensive linemen to be ready for Week 1 at Jacksonville.
“We need them ready yesterday,” veteran standout Mike Daniels said after Wednesday’s training camp practice.
While everyone else might be downplaying the state of the Packers’ defensive line, Daniels knows full well that the development of first-round pick Kenny Clark and fourth-round pick Dean Lowry will be critical. With B.J. Raji stepping away from the game and Mike Pennel being suspended for the first four games, the phrase “depth chart” seems like an oxymoron. Only Daniels and Guion have even suited up for a regular-season game.
That’s why Daniels wasted little time in reaching out to his new teammates. Daniels called them both on the Monday after the draft and informed them of the state of the defensive line, the enormous opportunities in front of them and that there would be no time for a breaking-in period.
“I told them, ‘Look, you guys are going to have to be ready,’” Daniels recalled. “‘We’re going to need you. I'm looking forward to you guys being here. You both seem like you've got some toughness to you. When you get here, it's all work. All work until you retire.' That's just the reality of it.”
This is also the reality of it: If Clark and Lowry aren’t ready to be solid contributors in Week 1, the Packers are going to be in big trouble. Unless Daniels and Guion are superhuman, they’re going to fall into a puddle of their own sweat if they’re forced to play 60 or 70 snaps during the Week 1 game at steamy Jacksonville. That, in turn, would put them at risk of being worn down for the Week 2 showdown at Minnesota.
“We are superhuman. Have you watched the last couple seasons?” Daniels said with a laugh. “Well, the good thing with defensive line, as long as you’re tough and you’re willing to attack, that makes up for a lot of things. It’s not that complicated a front. Be tough, and hit that guy as hard as you can, and make his life miserable and everybody has to do what they’re supposed to do. If these guys can’t do that -- which I don’t think we’ll have that problem – then, yeah, it could be tough. But I don’t think we’ll have that problem, partly because Letroy and I and are going to stay on their behinds this camp.”
Daniels went one step further in kicking the rookies’ development into overdrive. He also told the offensive linemen to give Clark and Lowry their best shots. If steel sharpens steel, Daniels wants the offensive linemen to be as sharp as possible in August to get Clark and Lowry ready for the rigors of September.
“The good thing is, they get to go against the best offensive line in the NFL. Hands down. They get to go against the best offensive line in the NFL every day,” Daniels said. “I already told those guys, ‘Challenge my rookies. Get after them.’ Our second-string offensive line is just as good as a lot of starters in the NFL. No matter who they’re going against, they’re going to get a great challenge. Coach (James) Campen’s a heck of a coach and his guys are very, very good football players. I’m glad I get to go against those guys every day. If you’re going against a guy that’s coached well, it’s going to be a challenge, no matter who it is. For our young guys to be able to go up against our offensive line, it’s going to be great for them and they’ll be more than ready. Letroy and I are going to stay on them as much as we can to make sure we don’t have to worry any of the typical issues you deal with.”
For Clark and Lowry, the next step in their paths begins on Thursday, when the pads go on and they get their first true tastes of the likes of Josh Sitton and J.C. Tretter. Clark is looking forward to the challenge and is embracing the prodding from a pair of veteran defensive linemen who know what’s at stake.
“Just from yesterday, I get that sense,” Clark said. “They’re not putting any kind of pressure on me. They’re just making sure, like, ‘Man, you need to be solid by Game 1 and we want you to be good.’ I’m taking all of that in. I’m excited for it. I love it. I’ve been around people like that all my life. I’ve been around hard coaching all my life. I’m only going to get better.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.