However, there appears to be another upgrade for this unit in the form of TJ Slaton, who is poised to make the second year leap that so many successful NFL players often make.
As a starter, Slaton was on the field for 255 defensive shots, according to the PFF, and while there were flashes, mostly, he looked like a fifth-round draft pick in his first season in the NFL.
But early this summer, there was already a noticeable difference at Slaton. During the Packers minicamp, coach Matt LaFleur stated that he was “light years” ahead of what he was a year ago at the time, and so far, that’s shown on the training ground.
Whether it’s Andy Hermann of Packer Report or Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, they have a similar message: Slaton made an excellent start in training camp.
Slaton was initially dealing with defensive reps and engulfing any ball carrier trying to force his way through the middle of the offensive line. He did it again often during the annual Packers’ Family Night practice.
As a primary operator lining up in the A gap, Slaton’s influence likely won’t always appear on the stat sheet, which comes in part with the area in this early role. However, Slaton’s teammates will feel his presence through his ability to occupy space, gobble double teams, and control the line of scrimmage.
Having this element in the middle will allow Joe Barry to move Kenny Clark more freely in search of individual opportunities while also helping to keep midfielders clean to make plays.
Slaton plays well in the middle as well to force the racing protesters to seek space outside the interventions. This plays in favor of the Packers defense that has already shown its ability to fly around the football field.
Practically speaking, it was very difficult for Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon & Co. to find any daylight outside the hashtags with this athletic defensive front, along with de Vonder Campbell and Kwai Walker at linebackers.
Last season, this was the Green Bay Packers defense that ranked 30th in yards per permitted carry and 28 by the Football Outsiders rush DVOA metric.
There are many reasons why this defensive unit could be much improved in the face of running this season, and Slaton’s high play is one of them.
Weighing in at 6-4 and 330 pounds, the Slaton has the size, athletic performance and skill to control the line of melee. It all comes down to constantly doing the little things, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery told reporters earlier this season, which he appears to be doing.
Then from there, he has the potential to be completely in control.
“More consistency. “I think he can be a dominant running player when he does the right things,” Montgomery said. “That’s what I will hold him to account for.”