Even in Retirement, Veldheer Worked for Opportunity

Bill Huber

Veteran offensive lineman Jared Veldheer officially joined the Green Bay Packers on Friday. A veteran of 113 career starts, Veldheer will provide the experienced depth on the line that the Packers haven’t had in years.

“It’s definitely welcomed to have a veteran that’s played a lot of ball and has done it for a long time,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Friday.

The knee injury that standout right tackle Bryan Bulaga sustained in the first quarter at San Francisco on Sunday night drove home the fact the Packers didn’t have an ideal reserve offensive tackle. That was supposed to have been Jason Spriggs but he suffered a trapezius injury in training camp and has spent the entire season on injured reserve. The season-ending biceps injury sustained by guard Lane Taylor at practice early in the season further eradicated the depth.

When Bulaga went down against San Francisco, the backup plan was Alex Light – an undrafted free agent last year. Light struggled, the Packers were crushed and, like manna from heaven, Veldheer fell into the Packers’ laps this week.

Bulaga’s injury history shows the value of tackle depth. However, not only did Bulaga not suffer a significant injury, he might be in the startling up on Sunday against the Giants. In fact, so long as Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari are in the starting lineup, Veldheer might not see the field other than special teams. It’s an odd position to be in for a player with about 7,000 regular-season snaps under his belt.

“You just prepare for having to do the most that you would have to do,” Veldheer said of his mind-set on Friday. “That’s how you go about it. You stay ready, stay prepared and you go out there and do whatever’s asked.”

Veldheer, a 12-game starter last year for Denver, signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Patriots on May 13. He went through the first practice of the team’s OTAs on May 20. That was it. A lingering hip issue was too much to withstand. A day later, he told coach Bill Belichick of his decision.

“There were a couple things that just made it very hard to look at another May to February season,” Veldheer said. “Some of those things have healed up nicely since then and allowed me to have this opportunity.”

While Veldheer was retired, he kept up his training. In fact, he put together a gym in his Michigan home. The better he felt, the more he ratcheted up the intensity of those workouts.

“I don’t know why I would have kept doing all the intense workouts every single week, staying in shape, if there wasn’t a part of me thought that this was going to be possible and it’s something that I wanted to do,” Veldheer said.

Healthy again and with the desire to continue his career, Veldheer told the Patriots of his desire to play. They released him and the Packers claimed him on waivers on Wednesday. That move became official on Friday; the Packers placed him on the exempt/commissioner permission list, meaning he won’t count on the 53-man roster.

Veldheer, his wife and two kids were on the road from their home in Grand Rapids, Mich., to the home of his wife’s family in Northwest Indiana for Thanksgiving when he learned the Packers had claimed him. Veldheer enjoyed a big Thanksgiving lunch before leaving his family and driving from Indiana to Green Bay.

“She’s a good sport about it,” Veldheer said of his wife. “It’s tough pulling her away from the house, especially with the Christmas season coming up and she’s pumped to bust out all the decorations, but she’s been very supportive.”

Veldheer played in a similar offensive scheme alongside Packers right guard Billy Turner last year in Denver. He didn’t figure it would take him long to get up to speed mentally, and those home workouts have him ready to roll physically.

At 6-foot-8, he’s an enormous man who knows how to use his size and length to his advantage. He had a solid season last year for Denver.

“I’ve always, being a tall guy, been able to use that to my advantage to play with length and size,” he said. “Sometimes, people can say that the leverage is against you when you’re tall, but if you’re tall and you can get down and then use your lever as a longer lever than most guys can use, it actually works for you and you can generate good force. That’s something that I’ve been able to do working double teams and gap-scheme runs and being able to get on guys fast on outside zone and inside zone runs. Obviously in pass pro, it’s nice to be able to play with length and extensions.”

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