GREEN BAY - Mike Daniels has taken a liking to Green Bay Packers first-round pick Kenny Clark, a young nose tackle whose addition has taken on added importance with the retirement of B.J. Raji.
In fact, Daniels is quite excited about Clark’s potential.
“For him to be as strong as he is and young as he is, it should excite everybody,” the veteran defensive end said.
Clark found out how excited Daniels was to have him around on the very first day of training camp when his personal space was invaded upon returning to the sideline. Along came all 6-foot, 310 pounds of Daniels and the air horn that masquerades as his mouth.
Talk about an introduction to training camp.
“I think my nose was touching the side of Kenny’s face, I was that close yelling at him,” Daniels said. “He just said, ‘Yep, gotcha, gotcha.’ And you saw a change right away.
“Now I won’t have to do that to him again because he already knows. He’s receptive to that tough love. That’s what I’m trying to create, a bunch of hard, tough men in that defensive line room and the rest of the defense.”
Daniels is making it known that the defense really needs Clark to fulfill some of the potential that made him the 27th pick in the draft when the regular season starts Sept. 11 in Jacksonville.
He wouldn’t say what Clark’s grievous offense was that caused him to go ballistic. He said it didn’t matter because it was done in part to let Clark know that this isn’t a redshirt year for him. The Packers don’t have Raji in the middle anymore and reserve nose tackle Mike Pennel is suspended for the first four games.
Someone has to help pick up the slack.
“Just from yesterday, I get that sense,” Clark said of high expectations. “They’re not putting any kind of pressure on me, they’re just making sure that, ‘Man, you need to be solid by Game One. We want you to be good.’
“I’m taking all that in. I’m excited for it. I’ve been around people like that all my life. I’ve been around hard coaching all my life, so I love it.”
The 6-2 ½, 314-pound Clark is only 20 years old despite playing three seasons at UCLA, but the way he handled Daniels’ barrage showed he’s not going to be intimidated easily. Clark missed a large portion of the OTAs this offseason because rookies can’t participate if their school is still in session.
Because UCLA is on a quarters system, he couldn’t show up until the final week of OTAs, his exposure to the defense primarily coming from Skype sessions with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. Clark has been worked in slowly, but that won’t be the case for very long.
“I feel good,” Clark said. “I’m just excited, you know what I’m saying? I feel like every practice, from yesterday to today, I feel like I improved. I feel like, when I’m watching film, I can tell what mistakes that I’m messing up on.
“With the pads tomorrow, I’m just excited to see where I’m at when the pads come on. I’m just taking it one day at a time. I don’t feel any pressure at all.”
Despite what Clark says, teammate Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a first-round pick in 2014 who faced enormous pressure when drafted to fill a problem spot at safety, said it’s natural for the rookie to face high expectations.
He said his advice to Clark was to avoid trying to be a savior.
“I just tell him, have fun doing it, don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Clinton-Dix said. “We’re not trying to make the honor roll here. We’re trying to be playmakers and make plays and have fun.
“You’re not always going to be right, but if you’re playing fast you have nothing to worry about. That’s all we want to see is effort. That’s what I had to learn.”
Clinton-Dix witnessed the verbal assault Clark absorbed and said the rookie will quickly learn that Daniels is just that way. He said there’s nothing personal about it. He said when he first got to Green Bay, he thought Daniels was putting on a show with that kind of behavior.
But he said he eventually figured out that it was his way of letting someone know that he thinks they can be really good.
“Once I got comfortable with Mike D, that this is how he is 24/7, you respect it,” he said. “Mike D would never say anything to bring a guy down. Mike D is motivating him to make him a better player.”
When the Packers lined up in their base defense for the first time Monday, Daniels was at left end, Letroy Guion was in the middle and Pennel was at right end. Clark was part of the group that backed them up. In the nickel, Clark and fellow rookie Dean Lowry were the third-team inside rushers.
As time goes on, Clark will see more time, but for now he’s not expected to be a starter.
“My biggest thing is I need to be consistent at all times,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m never going to lose a rep but I feel like as long as I’m consistent and as long as I’m in the right spot and I’m doing everything I can for this team to win, I’ll be fine.”
It turned out that way Monday after Daniels’ tongue-lashing. On the final play of practice, Clark corrected the mistake he had made earlier and his fellow defensive linemen mobbed him to offer congratulations.
“You have to have fun with your teammates,” Clark said. “At the end of the day, you still have to work. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.”