Of the five positions on Green Bay’s offensive line, the starter at only one for Sunday night’s pivotal game against the Bears is public knowledge.
For one, David Bakhtiari or Yosh Nijman could be at left tackle. After practicing Wednesday, Bakhtiari had a scheduled off day Thursday as part of his “day on, day off” schedule this week. Head coach Matt LaFleur said even when (if?) Bakhtiari returns to game action, he won’t practice three days in a row.
“He’s gotten a lot of reps, and there’s not many people that probably can have a schedule like that,” LaFleur said of the five-time All-Pro who has played only 27 offensive snaps since tearing his ACL on Dec. 31, 2020. “But I do believe, and we believe as an organization, that he is one of those guys.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week that he’s not worried about Nijman at left tackle after the sturdy job he did filling in for Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins in 2021. Nijman registered the Packers’ highest pass-blocking grade in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing just one pressure on 43 pass-blocking snaps. He logged the second-highest run-blocking grade among Green Bay’s offensive linemen, behind right tackle Royce Newman.
At left guard, Jon Runyan Jr. didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday since he’s still in the concussion protocol. Rookie fourth-round pick Zach Tom played 30 offensive snaps in his place against the Vikings, allowing one pressure on 24 pass-blocking snaps while posting the second-worst run-blocking grade among the six offensive linemen who played, per PFF.
His head coach, though, seemed pleased with the rookie’s NFL debut after being summoned on short notice.
“I thought he did a really nice job,” LaFleur said. “Obviously, there was one play where he got beat pretty quickly in pass protection (by veteran defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson), but I thought, all in all, I thought he competed. He knew what to do, and I thought you could really tell it wasn’t too big for him, so I thought he did a really good job in there.”
The Packers entered the season with one of the NFL’s best secondaries on paper, but it looked anything but Sunday.
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LaFleur said this week that Tom is in contention for a starting spot and his standing will be determined on a game-by-game basis. That could mean at right guard or right tackle, too. Left guard seems the most likely landing spot for the rookie this week if he starts because of Runyan’s injury, but keep an eye on Tom starting on the other side of the line in the future.
The right side could look a number of ways depending on Jenkins’ status. Jenkins, a 2020 Pro Bowl starter at left guard, was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday as he works back from the ACL tear he sustained in Week 11 last season. When healthy, Jenkins will play right tackle. If he misses again this Sunday, the Packers figure to roll out Jake Hanson at right guard and Royce Newman at right tackle again. If Jenkins plays his first game since his injury, Green Bay can either keep Hanson at right guard or move Newman inside to the position he played all last season.
Hanson turned in the Packers’ worst pass-blocking grade last Sunday, per PFF, allowing four pressures and a sack in 43 pass-blocking snaps while posting the third-highest run-blocking grade behind Newman and Nijman. In Newman’s first NFL game at right tackle, he surrendered three pressures and a sack in 43 pass-blocking snaps. Even if it’s just Jenkins back Sunday night and not Bakhtiari, it would do wonders for the offensive line if he can merely sniff the level he played at before his injury.
It’s even possible that if Jenkins plays and Bakhtiari doesn’t, Jenkins, then the group’s best offensive lineman, starts at left tackle. Nijman hasn’t played right tackle in a game, but he has in practice. Would coaches move Nijman to right tackle because he’s a better overall pass protector than Newman or keep Newman at right tackle and start Runyan/Tom at left guard, Myers at center and Hanson at right guard?
Oh, the endless possibilities!
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The only certainty among the five spots seems to be at center, where Josh Myers turned in the unit’s best performance in Week 1, according to LaFleur. Despite being in only his second season and playing in only six games as a rookie because of various injuries, Myers enters Week 2 as the safest bet in a group otherwise in flux.
“It is what it is,” Myers said Thursday. “There’s nothing anyone can do about it. That’s the hand we’re dealt right now. We’re doing the best that we can with it. I think we’re doing a good job of rotating and moving and adjusting when we have.”
The Bears ranked 16th in the NFL in Week 1 in pressure percentage, according to TruMedia, generating pressures on 29.4 percent of the Cardinals’ dropbacks in Chicago’s 19-10 win. The Bears also ranked 20th last week in yards per rush allowed (4.76), so the opportunities will be there for whoever starts on Green Bay’s offensive line to set the tone up front.
Perhaps the Packers know who their starting five will be Sunday and are keeping it internal. But from the outside, it seems as if there’s more uncertainty than not for a front five that had the quarterback it protects unsettled throughout a dismal offensive performance to start the season.
“It’ll be interesting to see who lines up as our starting O-line,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. “You’ll find out Sunday. It’ll be a fun surprise for everyone.”
Prediction: Packers 24, Bears 17
No matter how banged up the Packers offensive line is and no matter how milquetoast their cast of wide receivers seems on paper, this is still Rodgers against the Bears in prime time at Lambeau Field. This is as much of a must-win game as Week 2 games can get, with the Packers staring down an 0-2 start, with both losses coming in the division, and a daunting trip to Tampa looming next week. I believe LaFleur and Rodgers will stay true to their promise to get running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon more than 23 combined touches and the Packers defense will clean up some of the miscommunications that plagued it in Week 1. And the panic button stays in the drawer in Green Bay come Monday morning.
(Photo of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers O-line: Jeffrey Becker / Getty Images)