285. That is the amount of rushing yards given up in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers allowed 6.8 yards per carry, and only attempted eight passing attempts. Players and the organization know that their run defense needs to improve next season, and they will be addressing that this offseason. Fans, however, are calling for additions to the defensive line, and were upset to see that the Packers did not draft an interior defensive lineman. Packers Twitter is shouting for the Packers to bring in “Snacks” Harrison, who is known for his run stopping ability.
It seems people have forgotten about their 5th round draft pick from last season, Kingsley Keke, who is coming into his second season with Packers and possesses the athleticism to make an impact on the defensive line. I was able to catch up with Keke and hear what he had to say about last season, what to expect this year and what he has been working on to make an impact.
The conversation started with a discussion on what the offseason program is going to look like with everything being done virtually. Teams are holding virtual team workouts and sending equipment to their players to ensure they have everything they need to keep their bodies ready for the season. Keke mentioned that the Packers will be using different forms of social media such as instagram to track the workouts the players are doing.
In previous offseasons, you saw teammates working out together or players working out with a crew back home. With quarantine still in full effect this has become a challenge this offseason. Keke is lucky enough to have a personal trainer that he is still able to meet with and get the necessary work in to come in ready to make an impact next season.
Heading into the NFL combine in 2019, Keke came in 20 pounds lighter, but since coming to the NFL he has been slowly gaining back the weight.
“Yeah I came into the combine down a little bit because I was playing more defensive end in college. Now that I’m inside more I’m slowly gaining it back. I have put on 10-15 pounds of muscle.”
Coming out of college, his speed and quickness was what stood out at the combine. The NFL draft profile said, “Fluid, impressive athlete for a big man,” and “His athleticism and strength check the boxes pro teams want. He can scoot past blockers with his quickness and does counter well with strength when asked to stack blockers.”
Even though his athletic ability was what stood out, he does want to just focus on that one strength.
“Yeah speed is definitely one of my strengths, but I’m trying to overall be great. I want to stop the run and get to the quarterback, so I’m working on everything right now.”
The overall improvement and focus to become a well-rounded player will help the Packers defensive line tremendously. As mentioned earlier, the Packers need to improve their run defense, so I asked Keke what the team and himself are going to do to improve that for next season.
“Run defense is knowing what to expect. You can tell from a lot of plays that they are going to run the ball. We need to get in the right positions and know where to attack. We need to make sure everyone is strong mentally and physically. We need to have the mindset that we need to be physical and we are going to stop the run. I’ve been watching offenses running the ball, formations, and personnel to get ready for the season.”
I took this time to put in a request that Keke watches the Vikings film closely, so we can sweep them again next year. To all Packer fans, you are welcome.
Playing as an interior defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense the sexy stats that fans look at are not always there. It is about playing your role, filling gaps, preventing linemen from getting to the next level and sometimes it can go unnoticed.
“Really it’s about being strong in the gap that you are in. Getting to the quarterback, getting pressure up the field. I need to hold my gap down, especially in the base 3-4 defense. Really, I want to win my one-on-ones with the guards every play. . . In other packages I don’t mind moving around, but right now I’m mainly inside. We have the ability to put Z (Za’Darius Smith) inside and put some bigger ends out there like Clark, Lowry or myself.”
Last season, the Packers signed Dean Lowry to a contract extension, and many believe that he did not perform up to it. When this happens, it opens up opportunities for players to come in and earn more reps.
“Absolutely, I am coming in to compete for my spot. No matter what we are all family, we know it is a competition. I’m ready to compete and show what I can do. Those guys can play for sure, but I’m ready to compete.”
The defensive line training camp battle will be a strong one with players like Adams, Lowry, Keke and Lancaster all fighting for that spot next to Clark on the line. Even though they will be trying to outperform one another, Keke is not the only player to mention that the Packers are a family. I wanted to ask a little more about the family feel of the team, and how it started last season.
“Z (Za’Darius Smith) played an amazing role in that. He is a leader on and off the field. He is a guy you want leading your team. He comes in every day, works hard, smiling and having a good time. He makes us feel good and like we are really family. Z definitely played a big role in that.”
Talking about the leadership on the defensive side of the ball, Clark, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith stand out. Keke is not wasting his opportunity to play with such talented players. He is taking the time to learn from them and fine tune his game.
“I’ve been working on the cross chop move. Z is really good with that and I have seen him use it a lot during practice. P too. They keep teaching us all new stuff with the coaches. KC (Kenny Clark) has definitely taught me some stuff too, and I just try to mimic what they do and put it in my game. I want to see what fits in my game.”
I mentioned that the Packers need to pay Kenny Clark, and I will start a GoFundMe for him. As Keke laughed he said what every Packer fan has been saying, “pay Kenny.” Clark has been definitely working to show off his strength this offseason while pulling buses, but Keke has not been slacking either.
“Oh yeah I saw that. Yeah I’ve been out here pulling and pushing trucks. Building endurance and it’s been good.”
Kinglsey Keke earned 94 snaps on the defense last season, and racked up 10 tackles. He looks to improve that this season from the hard work he has been putting in back home in Texas. Fans may be disappointed that the Packers did not address defensive tackle in the draft or free agency, but with a young, talented player like Keke it makes sense why they didn’t. Look for number 96 to be on the field more this season, and help sure up the Packers already tough defense.