By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
For Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark, it’s all about being comfortable.
When Clark arrived in Green Bay as a 20-year-old rookie and first-round Draft pick out of UCLA a year ago, it was as if he was sleeping on a bed of nails.
Now, a year later, and after a rookie season that saw his play steadily improve, he’s found himself on a top-of-the-line mattress, you know, the kind with the numbers and all the other bells and whistles.
“It’s completely different,’’ Clark said of going into his second year, as opposed to his first with the Packers. “You come in as a rookie, you don’t know anyone and I’m not a real talkative person anyway, so it’s tough. You have to get comfortable, comfortable in the situation, comfortable being in Green Bay, comfortable with your teammates and the kind of guys they are.’’
A quiet rookie, Clark watched his teammates and picked up as much advice watching them work as he did by asking for help. Although he did reach out to a couple of guys.
“Mike (Daniels) and Letroy (Guion) were always there for me,’’ he said of his teammates on the defensive line. “I talked to (linebacker) Nick (Perry). He’s a guy who doesn’t talk as much. But he’s a guy who I like the way he works. I asked him some things, like what I should be doing. He told me to focus on the little things. I took a hold of that.’’
Clark rotated on the Packers’ defensive line last year and ended up playing a total of 414 snaps for the season. Once he learned opponents blocking schemes and got “comfortable’’ he played better and better. Two of his best games of the season were Green Bay’s playoff wins against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, two teams the Packers also met during the regular season.
“If you just watch the progression of the season, his arrow was straight up,’’ Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told the Green Bay area media of Clark. “I thought he played extremely well the last six weeks of the season. That’s something we need to build off. I think he’ll take that big jump as a second-year player.’’
Clark does too. And again, because he’s more comfortable in both his surroundings and on the field.
“This year I feel way more comfortable,’’ the 6-foot-3, 318-pound lineman said. “It was exciting to get back and see the guys again.
“And now this year, you know what to expect as far as the workouts, you know what to expect as far as what you need to do and what the goals are for the season.
“(As a rookie) you’re learning a new system, that’s any rookie. In college, it was pretty simplified. We try to do that here, but this is still another level. There’s more to do, more to learn.’’
Clark split his time as a rookie playing both the three-technique and nose tackle in the Packers’ 3-4 defensive scheme. He played mostly nose tackle at UCLA and may do so again this year with the Packers. But the bottom line is, now he’s ready.
“I felt like at the beginning of the season I did OK,’’ Clark said. “There’s a learning curve, some take longer than others. By the end of the season I felt a lot better. I started to focus on the little things. I focused on what I was doing, not worried about the playbook or any of that, and just did what I needed to do.
“And it’s not like I was out of shape early, or anything like that, but I just felt so much better (physically) at the end of the season, too. Now I have to take that into the next season.’’
The Packers have high hopes for their 2016 first-round draft pick, the 27th overall pick of the Draft. And, so does he.
“I might be my hardest critic,’’ Clark said. “I’m working hard and excited to get to work with the rest of the guys. I’m really looking forward to the season.’’