This is the fifth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series continues with the defensive line.
GREEN BAY – Mike Daniels may no longer be the Packers’ best-kept secret on defense, but there are several other unsung contributors quickly emerging on the defensive line.
The Packers have continued to build around their disruptive centerpiece with a deep and diverse collection of linemen, including last year’s first-round pick Kenny Clark and fourth-rounder Dean Lowry.
Clark, who won’t turn 22 until October, played beyond his years during the Packers’ playoff run. He credited his late-season surge to a better understanding of his role in the defense.
The 6-foot-3, 314-pound nose tackle focused his offseason training on developing strength and increasing functionality. Head Coach Mike McCarthy was among those who noticed a big difference in Clark during the offseason program.
Lowry, 23, proved to be more than just a five-technique end during his first NFL campaign. He showcased across-the-line versatility, recording sacks in back-to-back December contests against Houston and Seattle.
The 6-foot-6, 296-pound defensive end could see his opportunities increase on passing downs this season after the departure of elephant rushers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones.
As excited as the Packers are about their budding prospects, the 28-year-old Daniels remains the focal point of the front. His 146 tackles and 20 sacks over the last four seasons have catapulted Daniels into the conversation with the league’s top defensive tackles.
No longer seen as strictly a situational pass-rusher, Daniels was a Pro Bowl alternate for the second consecutive year in 2016 after recording 33 tackles and four sacks. Known for his durability, the 6-foot, 312-pound defensive tackle hasn’t missed a game since Week 5 of his rookie season.
Despite his successes, Daniels is far from satisfied. He continued to train this offseason with the intention of capturing the Super Bowl ring that’s eluded him during his first five NFL seasons.
With Daniels again leading the way, the Packers are poised to return everyone from a defensive line that finished eighth against the run a year ago.
Yet, General Manager Ted Thompson remained active in adding to the position during the offseason, beginning with the signing of ninth-year veteran Ricky Jean Francois during the early stages of free agency.
Jean Francois, an off-the-field entrepreneur who owns 25 Dunkin Donuts in South Carolina and Georgia, brings extensive 3-4 experience with him to Green Bay after previous stints in San Francisco, Indianapolis and Washington.
The former seventh-round pick has recorded 153 tackles with 12 sacks in 109 career regular-season games. He’s missed only six contests in his last seven seasons.
The Packers then used a third-round draft pick (93rd overall) on Auburn’s Montravius Adams, who had 151 tackles (21 for a loss), 11 sacks and a pair of interceptions in 53 games (36 starts) with the Tigers.
If draft day wasn’t exciting enough for Adams, the 6-foot-4, 304-pound defensive tackle and his girlfriend gave birth to their first child, Montravius Jr., shortly before the Packers called on draft day.
The Packers also return veteran Letroy Guion and Christian Ringo from last year’s unit, though Guion will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension and has another off-field legal matter pending.
Ringo, a sixth-round pick in 2015, spent the entire season on Green Bay’s active roster a year ago, registering two tackles and a forced fumble in eight appearances.
Also competing for spots during training camp will be undrafted rookie Izaah Lunsford and practice-squad holdover Brian Price, who played in one game for the Packers as a rookie.
COUNTDOWN TO CAMP ROSTER SERIESQBs: All four have goals in mind
RBs: Competition with five rookies behind Ty Montgomery
WRs: After top three, competition will be fierce
OL: Mixture of veterans and youth