Welcome to Jacksonville, where the Green Bay Packers will kickoff their 2016 season with what will be a slightly different to very different offensive line than the one that took the field in the opener in Chicago last September.
In a surprising development, Packers starting left tackle David Bahktiari was added to the injury report Saturday with an apparent back injury.
The Packers did not have their usual Saturday morning practice and left town early. They did not list Bakhtiari as a non-participant on Friday after conducting their end of week walk-through, so it's possible Bakhtiari's injury came on after that.
If Bakhtiari can't play, it's likely rookie Jason Spriggs would have to fill in. Spriggs saw plenty of time in the exhibition season at left tackle, but it would mean a whole new left side to start the season.
Aaron Rodgers was already slated to have a new starting left guard in front of him in Lane Taylor and now there’s a chance he could have an entirely new left side of the line charged with keeping him upright.
How important is Bakhtiari to this Packers team? Important enough that our Bob McGinn ranked him the sixth most important player on the Packers’ 53 man roster.
It was his best camp, and this figures to be his finest season. Management plans to lock him up with a long-term contract extension during the season if he stays healthy and his performance level doesn’t drop.
This could be a disastrous start to the left tackle’s bid for a new contract.
At left guard, the reason Taylor is starting is due to the still-somewhat-mysterious release of Josh Sitton just over a week ago.
Sitton will be opening his season down in Houston with the Bears while Packers fans (and apparently Packers players) are left with nothing but questions and few answers.
Bob McGinn did get a chance to ask Packers general manager Ted Thompson about the Sitton episode, but Thompson wasn’t interested in talking.
General manager Ted Thompson on Wednesday declined to offer an explanation for the Green Bay Packers’ release of guard Josh Sitton.
“I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said during an interview. “Not right now, no.”
“I will say this,” Thompson added. “Josh Sitton is a heck of a football player and a good teammate. He’s one of the better picks I’ve ever made."
In his Sunday column, McGinn also takes the Packers to task for the way they handled the Sitton situation
As for Taylor, our Ryan Wood illustrated how he has a history of being called into duty at the last minute, and not just in Green Bay. But that doesn’t mean Taylor isn’t ready or doesn’t have some experience to draw from.
Taylor is new to the first-team offensive line, but his experience extends beyond the scout team. When Sitton slid to left tackle against the Vikings, Taylor filled in admirably at left guard. His first career start came three weeks earlier at Detroit, replacing injured T.J. Lang at right guard. Taylor found out 90 minutes before kickoff he was starting against the Lions.
Meanwhile, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy spent some time earlier this week defending himself from criticism (possibly both real and perceived) that he is a “conservative” coach.
Again from Ryan Wood:
Think what you want of Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, but there’s one thing he wants to make clear about his approach to the game.
“I’m not a conservative coach,” he said Thursday morning.
McCarthy has contained his aggressiveness at times during the playoffs. It’s not hard to find situations where a gamble here, or maybe a risk there, could have made a difference. McCarthy said there’s a reason — if not multiple reasons — for every decision he makes from the sidelines.
Could we see a more aggressive Mike McCarthy today? Or will he continue to weigh the risks and play the percentages?
One thing we know for sure, the Packers will be asking their young defensive lineman to play quality snaps here in Jacksonville. With only two defensive linemen available who have played a down in the NFL, young guns like Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Christian Ringo will be expected to grow up quickly.
Those three players — a first-round pick, fourth-round pick and sixth-round pick, respectively — have a combined age of 66 and zero regular season games between them. All three are likely to make their professional debuts against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
Contrast that with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who with a combined age of 68 began earning paychecks as Clark, the youngest player on the team, navigated elementary school. And with 344 games between them, the Packers' youth movement contains some startling context.
Speaking of Aaron Rodgers, he sat down with Pete Dougherty earlier in the week and talked about his desire to play past the age of 40. Of course, only one quarterback in the modern era of the NFL has started 16 games at the age of 40 or older. None other than Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre.
Still, the second half of Rodgers’ career will be about attempting to add championships.
As Pete laid it out:
With a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction basically a given, his next eight seasons should be about adding the multiple Super Bowl titles that looked so likely after the Packers won it all in 2010 with a core of key players that included only one over the age of 28.
Safe to say, the last five years, though successful by league-wide standards, have not yielded the bonanza that looked like a possibility at the time.
Eight more years still are enough to accomplish something extraordinary if Rodgers can maintain a high level of play. For all the talk of teamwork in football, it of all the major sports in the United States is the most reliant on one player, the quarterback.
That puts much of the responsibility for the next eight (or however many) years on Rodgers, for better or worse.
That all starts today here in Jacksonville, where the Packers are playing what has been a historically bad Jaguars team, but one that scored points by the boatload at times last year. I sat down with Mike Kaye of First Coast News earlier in the week to preview the matchup.
As for who’s going to win? Take a look at the video below to see who we’re picking today.