Rookie Colby Wooden going to be counted on in Packers interior DL rotation

Defensive lineman Colby Wooden (96) during the 2023 Green Bay Packers’ rookie minicamp on Friday, May 5, 2023 at the Don Hutson Center indoor practice facility in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Defensive lineman Colby Wooden (96) during the 2023 Green Bay Packers’ rookie minicamp on Friday, May 5, 2023 at the Don Hutson Center indoor practice facility in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin /

Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst would say on Tuesday that Kenny Clark, TJ Slaton, and Devonte Wyatt are going to be the anchors of the interior defensive line unit. But rookie Colby Wooden is going to be a key member of that rotation as well.

Wooden has cemented himself as the fourth man in that rotation. During offseason programs, Wooden spent most of his time with the second-team defense but also took some snaps with the starters, specifically on passing situations when the Packers were in their base 3-4 defense.

Through the first few training camp practices, when the team splits into groups for offense verse defense drills, Wooden has spent time with the starting group.

"“First off, he’s extremely versatile, can play all the positions,” said Kenny Clark after Friday’s practice. “He’s smart too. Coach threw him right into the fire since he got here, and he hit the ground running with it. He accepted that role.”"

The addition of Wooden to the defensive front brings versatility and speed, running a 4.79 second 40-yard dash at the combine. At Auburn, Wooden played 668 snaps in the B-gap, 355 over the offensive tackle, and 642 as a traditional edge rusher, according to PFF. After the draft, Gutekunst said that Wooden had the ability to pass rush from multiple spots along the defensive front. In his final two college seasons, Wooden totaled 72 pressures and 13 sacks.

Wooden’s speed and overall athleticism shows a shift in the type of interior defender the Packers want on their roster. Rather than space eating interior defenders, like Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster, who were there to clog up the middle, the addition of Wooden, as well as Wyatt and Karl Brooks, shows the Packers shifting more towards versatile, gap penetrating personnel.

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley would discuss on the Playcallers podcast presented by The Athletic, that his defensive scheme requires that type of interior defender. And as we know, Joe Barry was brought to Green Bay by Matt LaFleur to specifically run a version of that defense.

Wooden has been able to showcase his speed when flowing sideline-to-sideline with the ball carrier and when in pursuit of the quarterback out of the pocket. There was also one rep during Saturday’s practice in which he blew by Sean Rhyan, blowing up the play in the backfield.

"“He’s twitchy,” added Clark. “An athletic guy. Can get in creases, do a good job of slanting, he’s got strong hands. I’m going to continue to keep pushing and keep working with him, and I’m excited for his growth.”"

Along the interior defensive line, the Packers have no shortage of pass rush options, something Gutekunst also talked about on Tuesday. However, the big question that Wooden, as well as Wyatt, Brooks, and TJ Slaton will have to answer, is can this group hold up against the run?

The run defense in Green Bay has been an issue that the team has had to overcome for several years now, and if this unit is going to improve in 2023, being better in that phase of the game is where it all starts. Success on the ground for an offense means a lot of second and third and short situations where the entire playbook is opened up to them. Slowing the run, however, puts the offense in predictable passing situations, allowing the defensive front to really get after the quarterback.

There are going to be ups and downs for Wooden this season as he navigates the learning curve that comes with transitioning to the NFL. But like run game coordinator Jerry Montgomery said earlier this offseason, the Packers are prepared to “weather the storm” that comes with relying on young interior defenders. Wooden has the physical tools and has been thrown into the fire, so to speak, since Day 1, but like all first year players, it’s about being consistent each day.

"”He’s a great kid, first and foremost,” said LaFleur. “I love his approach to the game. He’s working. He’s studying his butt off. When we are doing bed checks he’s always got his iPad open, studying the book, watching tape. He’s doing everything he can and we are going to have to count on him.”"