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 – The infusion of youth on the Packers’ defensive line will be impossible to miss in 2016.
Rising star Mike Daniels leads the unit, seconded by veteran Letroy Guion, and they will anchor a group as young as the Packers have had in quite some time.
Not counting 2013 first-round draft pick Datone Jones, who was working more with the outside linebackers this past spring, and Mike Pennel, who is suspended for the first four games of the season, no one else on the defensive line has played in an NFL regular-season game.
That opens the door for rookie draft picks Kenny Clark of UCLA (first round) and Dean Lowry from Northwestern (fourth round) to earn playing time, and potentially significant roles, right away.
Clark projects as an interior run-stopper and rusher, while Lowry appears more suited for those duties at the five-technique spot nearer the edge. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to mix and match, too, so the sooner the two draft picks can absorb the scheme, the more advanced their roles may become.
Beyond them, the Packers would love to work other young contributors into the rotation, and defensive line coaches Mike Trgovac and Jerry Montgomery will be watching closely to see who emerges.
Practice-squad holdovers Christian Ringo and B.J. McBryde have some playbook knowledge and scout-team reps under their belts from last year, especially Ringo, a sixth-round pick in 2015 who was in Green Bay the entire season.
The former Louisiana-Lafayette star dedicated his offseason to getting stronger and quicker, with the hope that at 6-1, 298 he can develop playmaking skills similar to the also-undersized Daniels.
Among the undrafted rookies brought on board, Texas-San Antonio’s Brian Price is the most notable name and was highly sought after following the draft. Central Florida’s Demetris Anderson is coming off a lost 2015 season due to a knee injury, while Idaho State’s Tyler Kuder had his best college season last year at Jared Allen’s alma mater.
Getting back to the veteran leaders, this could be the year Daniels becomes a household name. He earned a multi-year contract extension toward the end of last season, and he cracked the NFL Network’s Top 100 players of 2016 this past offseason, coming in at No. 95 in a vote of fellow players.
His first Pro Bowl nod may not be far behind. Daniels’ 18½ sacks over the last three years (including 2½ in playoff games) is an impressive total for an interior rusher, and he recorded his first career interception and forced fumble last season.
He forms a formidable run-stuffing duo with Guion as well. The Packers re-signed Guion a month before he became a free agent, and he is the best fit within the unit for taking over B.J. Raji’s nose tackle spot in the base defense.
Daniels and Guion will need help against the run early, though, with Pennel out of action the first month and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson on the docket in Week 2.
The Packers will need some of their youth in the trenches to rise to the occasion quickly.
Countdown to Camp series
QB: It’s Hundley’s time to shine
RB: Spotlight remains on Lacy
WR/TE: No. 3 receiver the competition to watch
OL: Offensive line depth stands out