GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins suffered a torn ACL on Sunday at Minnesota and will miss the rest of the season.
“It’s unfortunate,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “Elgton’s been a big part of this team and still is a big part of this team. But just won't be out there with us. It’s just one of those deals that it’s an unfortunate part of our game and we’ve had a lot of guys unfortunately have to go through this this year.”
Jenkins, who dominated at left guard last season and has thrived at left tackle this season, was attempting to block blitzing safety Harrison Smith early in the fourth quarter when his knee buckled.
The injury is the latest blow to the Packers, in general, and their offensive line, in particular. By the end of Sunday’s game, they had nine key players out of the lineup: outside linebacker Rashan Gary (elbow), receiver Allen Lazard (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) were inactive. Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back), tight end Robert Tonyan (knee) and center Josh Myers (knee) are on injured reserve. Jenkins, Jones, Bakhtiari, Alexander and Smith were Pro Bowlers last season.
If everyone were healthy entering the season, the Packers would have lined up with Bakhtiari at left tackle, Jenkins at left guard, Myers at center, Royce Newman at right guard and Billy Turner at right tackle. When the Packers host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, they’ll go with Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Lucas Patrick at center, Newman at right guard and Turner at right tackle.
On its own, losing Jenkins is a big blow. He is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL, a rare blocker capable of dominating at any of the five positions. In his first two seasons at left guard, Jenkins gave up one sack. He made the move to left tackle – a position so difficult that the top players at the position make huge sums of money and the top prospects in every draft cycle go early – look relatively easy. In eight games this season, PFF charged with only two sacks.
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Getting back the team’s All-Pro cornerback, All-Pro left tackle and Pro Bowl outside linebacker, to state the obvious, would be a huge lift to the 9-3 Packers.
“I feel like I’m the type of person that I can only get beat if I do something to beat me,” Jenkins said last week. “The person that lined up ahead of me, I don’t feel like they can do anything spectacular to beat me no matter what position I play. The only way how I can get beat is if I beat myself, basically.”
Combined with the uncertainty over Bakhtiari’s return from his own ACL tear – after participating in nine consecutive practices, he missed the last four – and the injury to Jenkins could be a devastating blow to the team’s Super Bowl chances. LaFleur said he was hopeful Bakhtiari would return to practice after the bye; he will not practice this week, nor will he play vs. the Rams.
When Bakhtiari seemingly was on track to return, he would have locked down left tackle and allowed Jenkins to bolster another position. With a potential powerhouse offense, Green Bay looked like a team set to really take off for the stretch run.
Instead, there’s at least a possibility that neither of Green Bay’s premier blockers will be available. That would be a difficult challenge to overcome, no matter quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ greatness, coach Matt LaFleur’s schematics and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich’s teaching skill.
“He’s been so versatile for us,” Rodgers said of Jenkins after Sunday’s game. “I think he can play every position on the line. So, definitely hate to see that happen. Not sure what his official status is coming out of the game but with Dave’s status unknown, we have to rely on probably Yosh. He’s played some good football for us. Proud of the way he stepped in. Hopefully, the news isn’t so bad with Elgton.”
When Jenkins was out with an ankle injury early in the season, Nijman played well in three starts. And he was on the field for two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
“I feel like Yosh played great,” Jenkins said last week. “I feel like he played really good for that to be his first time taking regular-season snaps, and I feel like the future is bright for him at whatever position he may play. But I feel like he played great.”