new slaton photo 5-17

T.J. Slaton weighed as much as 355 pounds while at Florida but was down to 326 pounds when Packers rookie camp started last week.

TownNews.com Content Exchange

GREEN BAY — T.J. Slaton is such an accommodating fellow that, to start his new job with the Green Bay Packers, the rookie defensive lineman from Florida did something no other new player on the roster did.

He changed his name.

“Yeah, I go by T.J.,” Slaton said as last weekend’s two-day rookie minicamp drew to a close. “Because it’s hard to pronounce my first name.”

So, even though he’s “Tedarrell Slaton” on his Wikipedia page, and on his official Florida Gators football bio, and even on his NFL draft bio, he’s “T.J.” on the Packers’ official roster.

(For those who’d like to call him by his given name, it’s pronounced “Tuh-DAIR-ull.”)

But no matter how the Packers opt to refer to Slaton, they are counting on him to make things more accommodating for their star nose tackle, Kenny Clark, and a defensive line that needed an infusion of new talent in new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s scheme.

The team allowed 2017 third-round pick Montravius Adams to walk in free agency after four largely non-descript seasons, and while 2019 fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke has flashed talent and potential during his first two NFL seasons (four sacks last year), it’s been Clark who’s carried the unit.

The 6-foot-4, 326-pound Slaton could be a valuable addition to the team’s rotation up front and could lessen the burden on Clark.

“Obviously, T.J.’s a monster,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after taking Slaton with the first of two fifth-round picks (No. 173 overall) during the final day of the NFL Draft earlier this month. “He’s got great size, great length. He’s really tough to dig out inside there. He’s one of those guys that can clog up the middle, eat up space and find the ball. If teams want to run it on us, I think specifically as we get later in the season, we have an ability to go in there and get big. And that was why we selected him.”

After Clark made his first trip to the Pro Bowl after the 2019 season as an injury replacement, it seemed as though Gutekunst was aiming to fortify a defensive line that — even with Clark dealing with injuries throughout 2020 — helped the Packers improve from ranking No. 23 against the run in yards per game allowed (120.1) and No. 24 in yards per rush allowed (4.67) in 2019 to tied for 13th in yards per game allowed (112.8) and 21st in yards per rush allowed (4.55) last season.

The Packers did bring back defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster for a fourth season after opting not to make a qualifying offer to him as a restricted free agent, but sixth-year defensive end Dean Lowry is coming off a down season, and Slaton has a chance to play right away if he picks up the system and has a strong training camp.

“One of the key messages to our team is it doesn’t necessarily matter how you got here. All that matters is what you do when you are here,” coach Matt LaFleur said during a break in the rookie camp. “These guys are going to have to earn it. But we are excited about what we saw leading up to the draft and then out there on the field in the limited exposure that we had. But again, these guys are going to have to do it on a consistent basis.”

For Slaton, it will start with getting his weight under control and improving his conditioning. He weighed as much as 355 pounds while at Florida, but even then, he showed off rare athleticism — a basketball player in high school, he was able to dunk a basketball at that weight. He weighed in at 326 pounds when the rookie camp began.

“Being 326,” Slaton admitted, “it’s definitely easier to get over the rim now.”

Among the immediate lessons Slaton got upon arrival in Green Bay were nutrition tips from the team’s director of performance nutrition, Adam Korzun. Slaton admitted that he shed some of his college weight simply by skipping meals — a no-no when it comes to healthy weight loss — and said the team is already working to improve his eating habits.

“Some days, I had miss meals because I wasn’t really comfortable eating three times a day. Some days, I’ll eat once. Some days, I’ll eat twice,” Slaton said. “People might watch this (interview) and say that’s bad. But to me, I feel like that’s the only thing that helped.

“I let the organization know that, and they’re looking for ways to try to help me — definitely with how I order my food, how I plan it out throughout the day. It’s just portions, not eating like super-big meals. Eating small amounts at times.”

If Slaton can follow those guidelines, he could make a difference. He had relatively meager college stats — he began his college career as an offensive lineman, didn’t start until his senior season in Gainesville, and tallied 1.5 sacks, 37 total tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last year — but he moves well for a man his size (he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds) and showed good strength (27 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press) as well.

“I definitely have a feel of what they want and what they’re doing,” Slaton said of the defensive scheme. “The coaches have given us a lot of film to go over — definitely watching Dean and watching Kenny, seeing how they play and how they play aggressively and how they use their hands.

“Everything’s been cool since I’ve been here. I love it here. I actually didn’t expect it to be the way it is. I was expecting to come up here and it’d be super cold, just off-the-wall freezing cold. I’m just trying to be humble, trying to take all the advice I can get and suck it all up like a sponge and be able to produce.”


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

This article originally ran on madison.com.

Locations

TownNews.com Content Exchange

Recommended for you