Green Bay Packers release defensive lineman Kingsley Keke

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GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers have parted ways with one of their promising young players, someone the coaches felt could be a force on the defensive line.

Kingsley Keke, a third-year pro drafted in the fifth round in 2019, was placed on waivers Wednesday evening and could land with a new team Thursday if he is claimed.

He started eight games this season and was a regular in the team’s base 3-4 front much of the season. However, he was a surprise inactive against Cleveland on Dec. 25, then spent a week on the reserve COVID-19 list and hasn't played since.

At the time, Packers coach Matt LaFleur referred to Keke's absence against the Browns as “a personal matter” but would not provide further details. 

Asked about Keke a short time later, nose tackle Kenny Clark said he had a long discussion with his teammate but wouldn’t reveal what was said. Clark said he was confident that Keke would be a productive player from that point on. 

Defensive lineman Kingsley Keke celebrates a sack during a 2020 game against the Eagles. The Packers released Keke on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Keke is a huge part of what we want to do,” Clark said. “Keke has a lot of ability. He’s a great pass rusher and can get on edges and all that kind of stuff and do really good things.” 

Keke was mostly a non-factor the previous week against Baltimore, finishing with no tackles and one pass defensed in 45 snaps, and that got him in the doghouse. Over a three-week period in which the Packers played the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago and Baltimore, Keke had one assisted tackle despite playing his normal amount of snaps. 

At the same time his production was slipping, rookie nose tackle T.J. Slaton’s was increasing. His hustle was especially noticeable in the Baltimore game and may have led the coaches to bench Keke and see whether he would fight his way back into the lineup.

Keke’s production early in the season was satisfactory. Over the first eight weeks of the season, he 19 tackles and 2½ sacks. However, he suffered his second concussion in less than a year against Arizona and was forced to sit out two games.

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 The Packers cleared him for the first Minnesota game and he was taken off the injury report the following week. 

After being benched against Cleveland, he missed the second Minnesota game because he was on the COVID-19 reserve list and then missed all of the next week’s practices and the season finale against Detroit. The Packers listed him on the injury report as having a non-COVID-related illness. 

He sat out both practices during the playoff bye week but returned Tuesday. He was not at practice Wednesday. 

Keke’s first concussion occurred against Tennessee in 2020 and he missed the season finale and the two playoff games. He later said he thought the concussion was first suffered a few weeks before and that he tried to play through it. 

Keke finished this season with 23 tackles and 2½ sacks. 

The Packers have not been hit with an injury bug on the defensive line and have enough players to get through the playoffs without Keke. The starters have been Clark, Lowry and Tyler Lancaster with rookies Jack Heflin and Slaton filling in. 

David Bakhtiari returns to the field 

A day after not practicing because of “load management,” Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari returned to the field wearing pads Wednesday.

Whether it will be enough for the All-Pro offensive lineman to play Saturday in the NFC divisional playoff round remains to be seen.

LaFleur said of Bakhtiari:

“We’ll just take it one day at a time, see how he responds to the load that he gets at practice. Certainly he’s a guy who, obviously, he played at a really high level in his limited snaps against Detroit. I was really impressed with his ability to go out there, but ultimately we’ll just consult with himself and our medical people and make the best decision for us.”

Bakhtiari wasn’t the only key starter limited Wednesday. Cornerback Jaire Alexander, who appears on track to play Saturday, also continued to be limited at practice as he recovers from his shoulder injury. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back) also practiced.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (toe) was a full participant for the second straight day this week. Inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (elbow), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and right tackle Billy Turner (knee) were also full participants.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis received a veteran’s rest day, as has been customary for Thursday practices throughout the season. With the Packers playing Saturday, they held their typical Thursday practice Wednesday.

Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back) did not practice after participating Tuesday.

Managing expectation with returning players

LaFleur said that it would be unrealistic for the injured players who will return to the field for the first time since getting hurt to play full starting roles.

In the cases of Alexander, Smith, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and tackle Billy Turner, especially, he cautioned that expecting them to step into the roles they had before getting hurt was not realistic.

"You don't want to just load them up and expect them to go out there and play 60 snaps," he said. "I think that's a little unrealistic at this point. But, you know, we'll see where they're at.

"And hopefully, they can give us some contributions."

In the cases of Bakhtiari, center Josh Myers and receiver Randall Cobb, the possibility is there to play the entire game. Bakhtiari played 27 snaps against Detroit two weeks ago and Myers played 32, so it's possible they could start and make it through.

Cobb plays a part-time role anyway, so there wouldn't be any concerns about him having to play 60 snaps.

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