GREEN BAY, Wis. – Elgton Jenkins has been the Green Bay Packers’ starting right tackle, is the starting right tackle and will continue to be the starting right tackle.
Period. End of (Twitter) conversation.
Offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich couldn’t have been clearer after Wednesday’s practice, the first of two this week before flying to London to face the New York Giants. Jenkins will stick at right tackle and not move back to guard, and Yosh Nijman will provide valuable insurance rather than taking over at right tackle.
“You’re always looking to put your best five out there and, right now, I think Elgton’s the best at right tackle,” Stenavich, the offensive line coach the past three seasons, said. “For him, it’s the challenge of left tackle or right tackle, you’re going to be playing against the best D-linemen on every team, those edge guys. He’s an alpha. He’s a dog. And he’s going to approach it every week, he wants that on his shoulders.”
In 2020, Jenkins was a Pro Bowler at left guard. In 2021, Jenkins showed he could be a high-level left tackle until suffering a torn ACL in November. His three starts in 2022, however, have been a struggle – at least by his standards. Of 67 offensive tackles with at least 60 snaps of pass protection, Jenkins ranks 62nd in pass-blocking efficiency at Pro Football Focus. That metric measures sacks, hits and hurries allowed per pass-protecting snap. His run blocking has been strong, though.
The challenge has been two-pronged. One, he’s playing a new position, one in which he didn’t have the offseason to prepare and didn’t start playing until a couple weeks into training camp. Two, he made a rapid comeback from a torn ACL.
It’s a different position but it’s a decent frame of reference considering this week’s opponent. Giants running back Saquon Barkley suffered a torn ACL early in the 2020 season. In 2021, he averaged a career-worst 4.2 yards per touch. In 2022, he’s averaging a career-high 5.8 yards per touch.
The assumption and hope is that Jenkins will get better and better as he plays more snaps and the injury fades further into the rear-view mirror.
“I think mostly it’s just him getting out there and feeling comfortable and just going through it,” Stenavich said. “There’s going to be some ups and downs. But one guy I’m not worried about is Elgton. Just the way he prepares every day and his mindset, I think he’s only going to get better every week.”
There are other factors, too. As with Jenkins, right tackle is a new position for Nijman. Yes, he was Virginia Tech’s starting right tackle as a senior in 2018 but he’s been stationed at left tackle throughout his time in Green Bay. Last year, David Bakhtiari was coming back from his torn ACL so Nijman was locked in at left tackle. This year, with Bakhtiari still on the comeback trail, Nijman spent the entire offseason, all of training camp, every snap of his preseason and the season-opening game at the Vikings as the left tackle.
So, while Stenavich, coach Matt LaFleur and offensive line coach Luke Butkus are big on cross-training linemen to play multiple positions, it just hasn’t been feasible to do that with Nijman.
On Sunday, Bakhtiari figures to make his third consecutive start at left tackle. He played all but three snaps in last week’s win over the Patriots. As he continues to stack series and games, perhaps the coaches will feel emboldened to give Nijman more practice reps at right tackle.
The best-case scenario, though, is Nijman’s cross-training would make him the valuable swing tackle. The Packers hope Jenkins thrives at right tackle, just as he did at left guard and left tackle.
“Every week, we’re evaluating who’s our best five,” Stenavich said. “Right now, I think Elgton’s the guy for the right tackle job. It’s just going to be this week by week watching him get better and going. But, yeah, there is a discussion of putting Yosh at right tackle. Then again, you’re moving Yosh to a new position and he’s going to go through some growing pains, too. It’s in the discussion, but that’s about all I’m going to say about it.”
For his part, quarterback Aaron Rodgers wants “the best five” to provide the pass protection and open running lanes. And who are those five?
“I like the five we’ve got right now.”