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Jenkins Returns, Hugely Important Season Awaits

Assuming Elgton Jenkins starts a right tackle for the Packers, a gauntlet of top pass rushers awaits. Beat those guys, and a huge payday will await, too.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The return of Elgton Jenkins from last year’s torn ACL was a season-shifting development for the Green Bay Packers. Where he lined up could signal a major financial development, as well.

Jenkins, who during his rehab work was pass-setting like a right tackle, lined up at right tackle alongside last year’s starting right guard, Royce Newman, during individual drills.

“[They said], ‘You’ve just got to choose a position today,’” Jenkins said, “so tomorrow I might be playing left tackle, might be playing guard, center. Just choose one position a day and knock the rust off at each one.”

This is a huge season for Jenkins. A second-round pick in 2020, Jenkins will be a free agent at the end of the season. Because they face so many top pass rushers, offensive tackle is considered a premium position and is paid as such.

Five right tackles have contracts averaging at least $17 million per season. Not a single guard or center is at that lofty figure. If Jenkins successfully rebounds from the injury and plays like he did during his eight starts at left tackle last season, he’s going to earn a break-the-bank kind of contract – whether it’s via an in-season extension or in free agency.

Even with so much at stake, Jenkins didn’t see any sense in being ultra-conservative about his comeback.

“Just control what you can control. You can’t worry about those things,” Jenkins said. “You’ve just got to worry about the process and what matters most, and that’s just getting my knee back at 100 percent.”

They’ll need him at 100 percent. Long gone are the days when the defense’s premier pass rusher lined up against the offensive left tackle to attack the blind side of a quarterback. Of the 11 edge rushers with 11-plus sacks last season, eight lined up primarily on the left side of the defense and attacked the opponent’s right tackle.

Thus, the play of Jenkins will be crucial to the Packers’ prospects. Based on last year’s snap counts via Pro Football Focus, these could be Jenkins’ individual matchups assuming he does start at right tackle:

Week 1: Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter (six sacks in seven games, 84.3 percent from defense’s left).

Week 2: Chicago’s Trevis Gipson (seven sacks, 81.3 percent from defense’s left).

Week 3: Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett (10 sacks, 52.2 percent from defense’s left).

Week 4: New England’s Matthew Judon (12.5 sacks, 61.7 percent from defense’s left).

Week 5: Giants’ Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5 overall pick; all rushes from defense’s left in preseason).

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Week 6: Jets’ Jermaine Johnson (No. 26 overall pick; all rushes from defense’s left in preseason).

Week 7: Washington’s Chase Young (nine sacks in 24 career games, 89.1 percent from defense’s left).

Week 8: Buffalo’s Von Miller (9.5 sacks, 69.7 percent from defense’s left with Broncos and Rams last year).

Week 9: Detroit’s Aidan Hutchinson (No. 2 overall pick; two of five rushes from defense’s left in preseason).

Week 10: Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence (6.5 sacks, 90.7 percent from defense’s left in 2020) and Micah Parsons (13 sacks, 70.8 percent from defense’s left in 2021).

Week 11: Tennessee’s Denico Autry (nine sacks, 78.3 percent from defense’s left).

Week 12: Philadelphia’s Josh Sweat (7.5 sacks, 79.5 percent from defense’s left).

Week 13: Rematch vs. Chicago.

Week 14: Bye.

Week 15: Rams’ Leonard Floyd (9.5 sacks, 72.2 percent from defense’s left).

Week 16: Miami’s Emmanuel Ogbah (nine sacks, 78.5 percent from defense’s left).

Week 17: Rematch vs. Minnesota.

Week 18: Rematch vs. Detroit.

That gauntlet is far into the horizon. On Sunday, Jenkins was just happy to be wearing his helmet and going through football drills for the first time since getting hurt at Minnesota on Nov. 21. It was a major milepost on the road to potentially starting in Week 1 at the Vikings.

“Going out there today in pads, with helmets on, it’s been a minute since I did that, so I feel like it’s a mental hurdle that you’ve got to get over,” he said. “The knee’s fine. Everything’s fine. It’s just that thought process of what I’ve been through the last nine months.”

Huge Sunday at Packers Training Camp