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Kingsley Keke starting to show every-play potential on Packers' defensive line

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
Kingsley Keke saw limited action as a rookie but is poised to play a bigger role in 2020.

GREEN BAY - The 2019 Green Bay Packers lined up on defense for more than 1,000 snaps. Rookie defensive lineman Kingsley Keke was on the field for 94 of them.

Yet in in those plays – and during practice – defensive coordinator Mike Pettine saw raw ability shaping into something more refined.

“He was a guy that as the year went on he got his opportunities in there, he was productive for us,” Pettine said. “That’s somebody that we’re looking forward to having a much more increased role.”

Pettine noted the “little details” were what had to be worked on for Keke, a fifth-round pick out of Texas A&M last year. Details such as what specific personnel groupings and formations mean to Keke but also the defense as a whole.

“Not only to learn but then also to be able to apply it,” Pettine said. 

Keke, 23,agrees with that assessment.

“That’s something that started to help me later in the season,” Keke said. “Starting to know what offenses are trying to do from their sets, from their formation. That was one of the main things.”

Of course, a firm place in a rotation is not guaranteed. The Packers added fourth-year veteran Treyvon Hester, who has played for Oakland, Philadelphia and Washington since entering the league as seventh-round draft pick by the Raiders in 2017. They also claimed defensive tackle Gerald Willis off waivers from Miami, so the competition has been increased for training camp.

A second year in the defense and an offseason of training for that increased workload has Keke feeling confident he can make a push for more playing time.

“My rookie year I was learning a lot more, learning the defense,” Keke said. “And I feel a lot better going into year two of the defense so I feel like I can play a lot faster.”

And for now, Pettine is open to that idea. Kenny Clark played 879 snaps (83.6%) last season, followed by Dean Lowry's 642 (61.1%). There was quite a dip in reps to Tyler Lancaster (381) and the Montravius Adams (189).

“I don’t think it was any secret, I mean we talked about it, that it felt like Kenny played too many plays,” Pettine said. “Tyler is more of a true backup nose; we wanted to get Dean off the field some, too. So developing some depth in that room, so that means Keke is going to have to step up, Montravius is going to have step up.”

To do that, Keke has been reshaping his body this offseason.

Early in his college career he played at over 300 pounds, then dropped weight to play defensive end as a senior. At the 2019 combine, he weighed in at 288 pounds. By the end of last season, he was about 295. He wants to stay in that range this season, but by working with Tramon Williams’ trainer Keke feels he is a stronger 295 to 300-pounder who can play at all spots on the defensive line.

“I just want to be good at everything, really, be versatile and be able to play the run and get to the quarterback,” Keke said. “I want to be an every-down player so that’s something I’m working hard to do right now.”