Packers need ‘huge steps’ from TJ Slaton and Devonte Wyatt

The Green Bay Packers don’t only hope that TJ Slaton and Devonte Wyatt take big steps in 2023; the defensive front needs them to.

With Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry heading elsewhere in free agency, Slaton and Wyatt are now the second and third most experienced players on the roster at this position group, behind only Kenny Clark, and both are going to be relied upon much more heavily this season.

“They have to take huge steps,” Clark told reporters on Wednesday. “TJ (Slaton), I love how he came in, and D-Wy (Devonte Wyatt), they’ve been doing a great job getting better every day. But we’re all expecting TJ and Dy-Wy (to make) big steps coming this year. I’m going to be there every day pushing them. I know the coaches are going to push them. We are going to make sure they’re right by week one.”

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At 6-5 and 340 pounds, Slaton will be the early down run-stuffer on this Packers defensive front. In his role, he isn’t always going to fill the stat sheet, but his teammates will feel his presence. Slaton will be taking up space and running lanes and also occupying double teams, which will create opportunities for those around him.

Wyatt was averaging fewer than 15 snaps per game through the first 16 weeks but took on a larger role once Lowry was placed on IR. During those final three games, Wyatt made some noise as a pass rusher, recording five pressures and two sacks. However, this season, Wyatt is going to have to be asked to do more, specifically against the run, where he still has room to grow.

“He finished the season off really good,” said Clark about Wyatt. “That Lions’ game, he balled out, for sure, against a really good offensive line. He’s always going to be a great pass rusher as long as he keeps on developing; the biggest thing is he has to learn the technique with the run. That’s what myself and coach are trying to push each other to do. Just helping him learn the technique of how we play the run and the mentality you need to have as a three-down player.”

As I wrote recently, the Packers do not have a shortage of pass rush options within their interior defensive line room; the big question, however, is how do they go about stopping the run, an area where as a defensive unit Green Bay has to be better in 2023.


Clark can’t play 100% of the defensive snaps week in and week out, and the Packers are going to want him on the field in pass-rushing situations. This likely means – barring a free agent addition – that, along with Slaton, Wyatt be utilized more often on early downs.

Following the draft, GM Brian Gutekunst spoke highly of rookies Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks’ abilities to get after the passer, but given the lack of depth within this room, both will likely have to see some run defense snaps out of necessity. Brooks has the size to play inside, but Wooden will likely be more of a defensive end and edge-setter in these situations. As rookies, both are going to be inconsistent, which again, puts more of the onus on Slaton and Wyatt.

Last season, the Green Bay defense allowed 5.0 yards per rush, which ranked 28th in the NFL. But during the final four games of the season, when the defense was playing its best football, the defensive front was also holding up much better against the run. In that stretch, the Packers allowed just 4.4 yards per rush, which for context, if done throughout the entire season, would have ranked 15th.

When the defense is able to contain the run game, it puts the offense in third and longs and predictable passing situations. This allows for the defensive front to get after the quarterback, which should be a strength for Green Bay, along with providing the secondary more opportunities to make plays on the ball. If the Packers’ defense is going to improve in 2023, it starts by slowing the run, and that is going to require jumps from Slaton and Wyatt.


“We definitely have to start faster,” said Clark when asked how the defense can improve in 2023. “But again, I think it starts with tackling and stopping the run. Whenever guys got in third and long situations, we usually got off the field and made plays on the ball, got sacks, or whatever the case may be. So that’s our goal, stop guys on first and second down, and get them in third and long situations. If they throw the ball short, be able to tackle the ball carrier.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire