The Packers didn’t make much in the way of defensive additions this offseason. Other than adding linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamal Martin and making some low-end waiver claims, the Packers seemed content with the defensive group they have, banking on improvement from within to push them to new heights.
Speaking with the media via Zoom on Friday, Mike Pettine seemed fine with that approach, identifying three young players he thinks can take a big step for the Packers whenever the 2020 season kicks off, starting with edge rusher Rashan Gary.
“We’re looking forward to Rashan making a big jump,” Pettine said. “It’s a shame he didn’t have this in-person offseason. I think that would have helped him.”
Limited to just 244 snaps as a rookie, Pettine said Gary will have increased opportunities this season, particularly in a role that could mirror Za’Darius Smith’s. Pettine offered the possibility that Gary could kick inside on third downs, giving the Packers some athletic push up the middle on obvious passing downs. Whatever the case, Pettine wants Gary on the field more.
“I think at times where Preston and Z probably played maybe a little too much, that we want to take some off their plate. So I know Rashan is certainly built to handle giving those guys a break.”
He won’t be the only one getting more chances. 2019 fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke, who played just 94 snaps last season, got a special mention from Pettine, who said he’s banking on Keke to ease some of Kenny Clark’s workload.
Pettine saved his highest praise for second-year safety Darnell Savage, who started 14 games for the Packers in 2019.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Darnell,” said Pettine.
Savage intercepted two passes for the Packers and defensed five more in addition to forcing two fumbles last season.