Quick thoughts on Packers position groups: Stopping the run a must for interior DL

May 23, 2023; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (95) is shown during organized team activities at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2023; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (95) is shown during organized team activities at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports /

As part of my preparation for training camp, which begins at the end of July, as well as the preseason, I have been taking a look at each of the Green Bay Packers position groups on the 90-man roster.

Within this series, I have been examining each position one by one, sharing my thoughts on what I’ve both seen and heard during the practices that were open to the media throughout OTAs and minicamp. I’ll also dive into my expectations within the respective position groups, questions I still have, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Up next, I turn to the defensive side of the ball, beginning with the interior defensive line. If you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them below.


Running back

Tight ends 

Offensive tackle

Interior offensive line

Wide receiver

Current roster: Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt, TJ Slaton, Colby Wooden, Karl Brooks, Jonathan Ford, Chris Slayton, Jason Lewan, Antonio Moultrie

– As the title of this article suggests, the Packers defensive front has to be better against the run this season. They finished 2022 ranked 28th in yards per rush allowed at 5.0 and 31st by DVOA. When the defense had found its groove late last season, a big reason behind that success was their improved play against the run. Over the final four games, the Packers allowed only 4.4 yards per carry, which over the course of the season, would have ranked 15th—not great by any means but much improved. Slowing the run puts the offense in predictable passing situations, allowing the defensive front to get after the quarterback and the secondary to play more aggressively. On the other hand, when the offense is facing second and third and short situations, it opens up the entire playbook for them, making things much more difficult for the defense.

– In 2022, the Packers ranked eighth in third down defense—not bad at all. However, they faced the fewest number of third downs per game. In short, what this means is that opposing offenses were either getting stopped on third downs or not even reaching third down because they moved the chains on first or second. And a lot of that has to do with Green Bay’s inability to slow the run game.

– The receiver and tight end positions have garnered a lot of attention for their inexperience but you can add the interior defensive line to that group as well. Only three players, Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt, and TJ Slaton have any NFL snaps, with Slaton playing fewer than 600 and Wyatt under 300.

– The Packers have plenty of options along the interior when it comes to rushing the quarterback, but one of my biggest questions is how they will handle early downs and obvious running situations. Of course, that will be Slaton’s primary role, and we will see a lot of Clark, but he can’t play every snap either, and if he is out there on running downs, the trade off is him being on the sidelines during passing downs—or vice versa. Wyatt, Colby Wooden, Karl Brooks, and perhaps Jonathan Ford are going to have to step up in this area.

– Typically for young players, we see a quicker impact as a pass rusher than as a run defender. Given the makeup of this position group and how heavily rotated it is with four to five players seeing snaps each week, as pass rush coordinator Jerry Montgomery said, Green Bay will have to “weather the storm” that comes with relying heavily on rookies. Even for Wyatt in his second season, Clark mentioned earlier this offseason that his technique against the run is one area that he will need to continually improve upon.

– Speaking of Wyatt, between the opportunity he will have this season, his athletic upside, and how last season ended, he appears poised for a breakout year, which the Packers will need as he is now the No. 2 pass rush option. As a defense, the Packers ranked 23rd in total pressures last season. Wyatt logged five pressures and two sacks over the final four games.

– Colby Wooden took quite a few snaps with the starters during OTAs and minicamp. Karl Brooks was often with the second unit, and my guess right now is that he is used primarily as a pass rusher this season. Both players bring a ton of versatility to the defensive front, able to play up and down the line.

As I wrote about recently, we got a glimpse during offseason programs into what the defensive line rotations might look like. When in their base 3-4 alignment, not surprisingly, it was Wyatt, Slaton, and Clark. Another rotation I saw consisted of Wooden, Slaton, and Wyatt. When in nickel, it was Slaton and Clark on early downs and I’ll venture to guess that on passing downs, Wyatt would be in for Slaton.

– In terms of number of players rostered at this position group, we know who the five roster locks are, the real question is whether or not Ford can force the Packers to keep a sixth interior defender. With the ability to elevate players from the practice squad up to three times on game days, the Packers could easily get by with only five defensive tackles on the 53-man. If Ford, who was inactive all of last season on game days, is going to make the final roster, it will have to be as a run defender with his 6’5” – 338 frame. As already discussed, there are questions about how Green Bay will handle those running downs.

– The one somewhat under the radar name to watch is Chris Slayton, who performed well last preseason, specifically as a pass rusher. But with that said, the Packers have very much favored their own draft picks – which Ford is – when determining who earns a final roster spot. And like Ford, Slayton will have to show he can make an impact against the run.

– More so than receiver or tight end, if there is a position group that the Packers should still look to add to in free agency, it’s the interior defensive line. As already mentioned, there is a lot of inexperience and if this defense as a unit is going to improve, they have to be better against the run. Green Bay has over $14 million in cap space, although it’s not as if players at this stage of free agency are going to break the bank, and there are still several viable options available, including Shelby Harris and Matt Ioannidis.

– Good run defense begins with the interior defensive line, but as Montgomery mentioned when speaking with reporters, it takes the entire defense. The linebackers and members of the secondary have to be better at getting off blocks, filling gaps, and making open field tackles.

– I asked Montgomery what it takes to be a good run defender, and in short, it comes down to having the right mindset:

"“It’s a mindset,” said Montgomery. “At the end of the day, it’s a mindset. We had a great conversation in our room a couple weeks ago. We are watching Kenny do it, and then we are watching other guys try to do it, and their being taught the same thing, but it’s in the mindset in which you do it. Kenny is trying to knock your head off across from you every single time while these other guys are just trying to the technique. So it’s a mindset and when those guys build that mindset, and I coach with that temperament, because I coach grown men and I’m teaching grown men to out physical other grown men from across from each other. And when you don’t have that mindset, you’re in the wrong business. It’s the mindset in which they have to do it.”When it clicks for them, you go back and watch TJ Slaton against the Minnesota Vikings here, and him pick up a 300 pound center and put him five yards back down there on the goal line and then grab the running back by the back of the neck and yank him down. That’s a mindset, he can do that every single time, but he has to make that decision. My job is to hold them accountable every single day, make sure they’re working and playing to that ability, but when they get into the game, I can’t hold their hand.”"