In 2010, the Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl behind a defense that ranked second in the NFL in points allowed. That dominance started up front with a defensive line that included starters Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji.
The potential is there for Green Bay’s defensive line to be a major force this season, as well.
The playmaker of the 2010 unit was Jenkins. The playmaker of this unit is Mike Daniels. At age 28, Daniels is a two-time Pro Bowl alternate and a two-time selection on NFL Network’s list of the league’s top 100 players. Not only did he have four sacks and eight tackles for losses last season, Daniels had 20 quarterback hurries. The rest of the team’s defensive linemen combined for nine.
“Keep getting better,” Daniels said of his goal. “Everything else will come — Pro Bowl, All-Pro, those accolades that come with being a top player at my position. I already know I am. It’s just a matter of making everybody else believe it. And just being a great leader on this defense and on this team. I feel as though I have the ability to lead the guys to doing something great and get us all to play above our potential.”
The sturdy veteran of that unit was Pickett. The veterans of this unit are Ricky Jean Francois and/or Letroy Guion. Guion was by far the unit’s best defender against the run. He led the unit with 50 tackles — even while playing more than 200 fewer snaps than Daniels. However, he had no sacks and only 1.5 hurries. With a four-game suspension looming for Guion, the Packers added Jean Francois, a capable 30-year-old who started seven games last year for Washington.
“He’s very bright,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said of Jean Francois. “He’s good with the young guys. Very confident in what he does. Some guys when they get on the last parts of they’re careers, they’re afraid to help somebody because, when you bring a mass of guys in, you're only keeping so many. He’s very confident in what he does, and he’ll talk things with you if he sees something he’s done in the past. So he’s fun to have conversations with.”
The second-year stud of the 2010 unit was Raji. The potential second-year stud of this unit is Kenny Clark. Clark, who remains one of the five youngest players on the team, played a total of 20 snaps against Philadelphia and Houston in Weeks 12 and 13. He became a vital cog down the stretch, though, and averaged 26.3 snaps in the three playoff games. Clark had four quarterback pressures in the regular season compared to five in the playoffs.
“Kenny’s a unique kind of person,” Trgovac said. “He’s mature beyond his years that way. He’s very focused. He came back in excellent shape and you could just see that means a lot to him. He was always strong and in shape, and a good athlete, but he’s one of those guys that as a coach you kind of lay out guidelines for them and talk to them about certain things and he actually follows through step by step, where some guys you have to prod them a little bit more. With him, you don’t.”
The 2010 team had rookie C.J. Wilson, second-year pro Jarius Wynn and veteran Howard Green in reserve. The 2017 team’s potential backups include rookie Montravius Adams, second-year pro Dean Lowry and veterans Guion/Jean Francois.
Can Green Bay’s defensive front be as deep and diverse as it was during the championship season? That will be dependent in large part on Clark and Lowry.
“It depends on how these young guys come around,” Trgovac said. “Dean and Kenny, we’ve got some second-year guys that we’ll be counting on. They’ve done a fabulous job to this point, but we’re running around in underwear right now. So we’ll find out when the pads come on for real. But they’re two very mature, hard working guys.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.