The Green Bay Packers signed Jarran Reed in free agency and then selected Devonte Wyatt in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft to bolster their interior defensive line group.
However, another upgrade this unit appears to be getting is in the form of TJ Slaton, who is poised to make the Year 2 leap that so many successful NFL players often make.
As a rookie, Slaton was on the field for 255 defensive snaps, according to PFF, and while there were flashes, for the most part, he looked like a fifth-round draft pick in his first NFL season.
But this early on this summer, there was already a noticeable difference in Slaton. During Packers minicamp, head coach Matt LaFleur mentioned that he was “light years” ahead of where he was a year ago at that time, and so far, that has shown up on the practice field.
Slaton has been taking early down reps with the starting defense and engulfing just about any ball carrier that tries to make their way through the middle of the offensive line. He again did this often during the Packers’ annual Family Night practice.
As a primary run-stuffer lining up in the A-gap, Slaton’s impact likely isn’t always going to show up on the stat sheet, which in part comes with the territory in this early down role. However, Slaton’s teammates will feel his presence with his ability to occupy space, eat up double teams, and control the line of scrimmage.
Having this element in the middle will allow Joe Barry to move Kenny Clark around more freely in search of one-on-one opportunities while also helping to keep the linebackers clean to make plays.
Slaton playing well in the middle is also going to force opposing running backs to look for space outside the tackles. This plays into the hands of the Packers defense that has already showcased their ability to fly around the football field.
In practice, it has been quite challenging for Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Company to find any daylight outside the hash marks with this athletic defensive front, along with De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker at linebacker.
Last season this was a Green Bay Packers defense that ranked 30th in yards per carry allowed and 28th by Football Outsiders rush DVOA metric.
There are several reasons why this defensive unit can be much improved against the run this season, and the elevated play of Slaton is very much one of those factors.
At 6-4 and 330 pounds, Slaton has the size as well as the athleticism and skill-set to control the line of scrimmage. It just all comes down to doing the little things consistently, as defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery told reporters earlier this offseason, which he appears to be doing.
Then from there, he has the potential to be downright dominant.
“More consistency. Doing the little things all the time,” Montgomery said. “I think he can be a dominant run player when he’s doing the right things. That’s what I’m going to hold him accountable for.”