GREEN BAY, Wis. – There aren’t 32 good left tackles in the NFL, let alone a bunch of competent backups. With All-Pro David Bakhtiari as the starter, the Green Bay Packers might have the best left tackle in the NFL. With Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins’ versatility, the Packers might have a superior backup plan.
“He’s just an exceptional player,” coach Matt LaFleur said this week. “There’s not much he can’t do. We could probably line him up at tight end. Maybe we will, I don’t know. But he’s a phenomenal football player.”
With Bakhtiari recovering from the torn ACL sustained on New Year’s Eve, Jenkins has taken all the first-team reps at left tackle during training camp. Given the timing of the injury, there’s a chance Bakhtiari won’t be ready for the season-opening game at New Orleans on Sept. 12.
However, Jenkins’ play during the first six practices of camp suggests the Packers could be just fine for individual matchups against the Saints’ Marcus Davenport, the San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson in the opening three road games. Simply put, Jenkins has been so effective that he’s become easy to overlook.
“Elgton’s an athlete,” right tackle Billy Turner said. “You could put Elgton anywhere on the offensive line and not really have to worry about him.”
While at Mississippi State, Jenkins started twice at left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and three times in 2016 before becoming the Bulldogs’ full-time starting center for his final two seasons. However, his offensive line coach at the time, Marcus Johnson, would put Jenkins at right tackle against the likes of future first-rounder Montez Sweat. It was during those matchups that Jenkins’ “God-given abilities” became apparent.
As Green Bay’s left guard, the second-round draft pick was all-rookie in 2019 and a Pro Bowler in 2020. However, he did spread his wings with 32 snaps as the starting right tackle in the opener at Minnesota and 27 snaps at left tackle at San Francisco after Bakhtiari suffered broken ribs.
Now, with day after day after day of reps at left tackle, he’s provided exemplary protection for Rodgers.
“It’s just the repetition,” Jenkins said after Tuesday’s practice. “Getting a lot of reps at left tackle, going against guys like Rashan, P (Preston Smith), Z (Za’Darius Smith), all those guys. It’s just getting that repetition and getting a lot of reps in pads I think will help me out a lot.”
It obviously helps that Jenkins is supremely talented, has tremendous feet and possesses the requisite 34-inch arm length to play the position. It also helps that he’s got Bakhtiari as a pseudo third assistant coach alongside Adam Stenavich and Luke Butkus. In the meeting room, Jenkins sits in front of Bakhtiari so the All-Pro is always in his ear.
“I really have a lot of respect for Elgton. I think he’s a great player,” Bakhtiari said. “I think he has even more to give, even more than I think he even knows. And I’ve told him this and I’ll tell you guys that my goal is to make sure he can become the best Elgton Jenkins he can be. His versatility is something very unique and special, and the more that he continues to be the best Elgton he can be, he can be something special. Every day, I just kind of add little tidbits. I’ll tell him certain things that I knew to help speed him up so he doesn’t have to wait the six weeks until he experiences it. ‘You’re probably going to experience this, so I want you to attack it.’”
While Jenkins has said he’d love to play quarterback, and he was feeling pretty good about his chances at tight end after catching a few passes during individual drills on Tuesday, Jenkins most likely will have to settle for the challenge of playing left tackle. And it’s a huge challenge, indeed. That’s why there are 16 left tackles making more than $10 million per season compared to 21 at the other four offensive line positions.
“I like the challenge,” he said. “I’ve never really backed down from a challenge. I’ve been doing this since college — my first two years playing left tackle, then guard, then going to center. So I feel like it’s kind of fun. It keeps my mind spinning and things like that.”
The move from left guard to left tackle has been challenging. Whenever Bakhtiari returns, the move back to left guard should be much simpler.
“I’ve got that position kind of down to the T,” Jenkins said. “So, right now, I’m focused on left tackle. I’m trying to get the small things to help me out and help our team win.”