GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.
To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.
This series of positional previews continues with the offensive linemen.
The Sure Thing: Versatility
A center at Mississippi State, Elgton Jenkins was a Pro Bowler at left guard who thrived at left tackle and might start at right tackle this season. Yosh Nijman was a revelation at left tackle last season who also could be in the mix at right tackle.
At Ole Miss, Royce Newman started at left guard as a junior and right tackle as a senior before starting at right guard as a rookie. At Michigan, Jon Runyan started at left tackle before earning the starting job at left guard last year.
Third-round rookie Sean Rhyan started at left tackle for three seasons at UCLA but could wind up at guard for Green Bay. Fourth-round rookie Zach Tom started at center as a sophomore and at left tackle as a junior and senior at Wake Forest; he hopes to be a five-position player as a rookie.
Versatility is a key component for every offensive lineman. It’s stressed more in Green Bay than most other teams.
“It just comes from worst-case scenario, kind of planning for the worst,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said recently. “It’s just basically trying to be prepared for things that can happen.”
The Big Mystery: Knees
An All-Pro for five consecutive seasons from 2016 through 2020, David Bakhtiari missed most of last season with a torn ACL sustained almost 17 months ago. If he practices this week, that would be an incredibly good sign. But, by the same token, there’s not a lot of reason for him to be blocking Rashan Gary in late May.
A Pro Bowler in 2020, Jenkins suffered his torn ACL on Nov. 21 at Minnesota and obviously won’t be practicing. In fact, it would be quite a feat for Jenkins to be practicing at any point during training camp.
Much has been said about the Packers’ postseason failures as the No. 1 seed the last two years. To be sure, Aaron Rodgers needed to play better in those games. Regardless, would the Packers have beaten the Buccaneers in the 2020 NFC title game with a healthy Bakhtiari? And would they have beaten the 49ers and another opponent in 2021 to get to the Super Bowl with a healthy Bakhtiari and Jenkins?
Without question, the state of their knees is more important than the development of the rookie receivers.
Worth Watching: Where Are Rhyan, Tom?
Regardless of whether Bakhtiari practices over the next four weeks, it will be interesting to see how first-year offensive line coach Luke Butkus deploys his personnel and works in the draft picks.
“At a position where they’re at and the time of their career, they’ve got to be able to do multiple things,” Butkus said of Rhyan and Tom.
But, as he quickly acknowledged, there’s a balancing act. Butkus can’t move the rookies around so much so that they’re able to play multiple positions but they’re bad at all of them.
That’s especially true for Tom, who aims to be Jenkins 2.0. His signature game last season came against Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson, who wound up going in the first round to the Jets. In 40 pass-protecting snaps, Tom didn’t allow a single pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. How did he do it while being a bit undersized (6-foot-4 1/4, 307 pounds, 33 1/4-inch arms)?
“One of the big things that when we watched Zach was that game vs. Florida State and blocking the defensive end that they had that was highly rated and did a great job,” Butkus said. “How did he do it? He’s competitive, he’s smart and he’s athletic. He can move, he can bend. All three of those things we look for in our offensive linemen. That’s how he did it. You’ve got to have grit, you’ve got to have the pads on and be able to hit, as well. That’s all part of it.”
The Packers have a lot of linemen. What they don’t have are a lot of natural tackles. Bakhtiari, Nijman, seventh-round rookie Rasheed Walker and undrafted rookie Caleb Jones are the only pure tackles on the roster. That gives Walker a real opportunity to show his potential the next four weeks.