Packers add veteran tackle Jared Veldheer to OL mix in wake of Bryan Bulaga injury

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GREEN BAY – Early Wednesday afternoon, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said he would explore “everything” at right tackle if Bryan Bulaga’s injured right knee doesn’t allow him to play – and as his team practiced in the Don Hutson Center, one of those options potentially came off the waiver wire in veteran Jared Veldheer.

Veldheer, 32, was claimed by the Packers, according to his agent Ken Sarnoff.

The 6-foot, 8-inch, 321-pound tackle retired in March shortly after signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the New England Patriots this offseason due to concerns over degeneration in his hips. He had said he received stem-cell treatments last offseason but when it came time to return to the field he did not feel he could play.

He came out of retirement when the Patriots released him off the reserve/retired list Tuesday.

A third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2010, Veldheer has played 118 games (113 starts) at left and right tackle for Oakland, Arizona and Denver. His last action on the field was for the Broncos in 2018.

“He’s a good dude, man,” said Packers right guard Billy Turner, who played with Veldheer in Denver. “He’s an athlete. He’s light on his feet. He’s been doing it a long time. He’s a veteran. This will be year 10 or 11 for him. He’s been there, done that. He’s played multiple positions but more so than anything he’s smart and he’s able to kind of go from scheme-to-scheme and adapt and he proved that last year when I was with him in Denver.”

Turner is also an option at right tackle. One of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s four offseason free agent signings, Turner has experience at that position in games and repped there in training camp when Bulaga was rested.

“There’s a little more space, more so in pass protection,” Turner said of the adjustment to tackle. “You’ve got to control the width of the pocket and not the depth. But at the same time it’s really more so the same thing – you’ve got to time your punches up and time your footwork up a little more. It is the same thing and it’s just one of those things where mentally you’ll have to be a little more locked in going into a game just because you’re not used to being at that position. At the same time, it’s not like we’re running different plays or anything like that. You just have to tweak a few things.”

Second-year tackle Alex Light has been the swing tackle to this point in the season, subbing for Bulaga against Philadelphia and Kansas City. But Sunday’s game against San Francisco was the most snaps he has played in his career (70) and after film review Light didn’t sugarcoat his performance.

“I was just offbeat of the whole group,” he said. “You could tell just by watching the film. I was always slow out of my stance. A little hesitant with what I was doing. But a tough environment, lot of first-rounders up front. They wouldn’t jam a lot, did a lot of one-on-ones so I knew as soon as I came in the game I was going to get (Nick) Bosa so my thought process was just try t keep him away from Aaron (Rodgers) as long as possible. I know he’s a great player. I’m a backup. He saw me coming, he was probably licking his chops. I gotta play better. There’s no excuse for that. That’s my job – be ready at all times no matter what the circumstance is.”

The Packers bolstered the line oMonday as well when they promoted undrafted rookie tackle Yosh Nijman to the active roster after they placed guard Cole Madison on injured reserve. Nijman, who is 6-7 and 314 pounds, had impressed the Packers in training camp.

As the line shuffles into place, another option could be Adam Pankey. The 6-5, 313-pound second-year pro out of West Virginia has continued to work at guard and tackle in practice. He spent all of training camp with the Packers before joining Tennessee’s practice squad on Sept. 5. Pankey returned to Green Bay on Sept. 21 after Lane Taylor was placed on injured reserve.

“That’s what I’m here for and that’s why I work every day,” Pankey said. “Sometimes you get discouraged but you’ve got to stay locked in all the time. That’s just been my role coming into it and just making sure I’m ready to go. That’s all I need to worry about – how can I help this team win?”

More action for Aaron Jones

From the beginning, Matt LaFleur’s plan for Aaron Jones this season was to preserve his workload.

Jones has played more in LaFleur’s offense than in former head coach Mike McCarthy’s. His 428 snaps this season are 52 more than last year, and almost double his snap count as a rookie in 2017. Still, he has hardly been a workhorse. Jones ranks 16th in the NFL with 148 carries, averaging only 13.4 per game.

Jamaal Williams, meanwhile, has been used more as a complementary starter than a true backup. Williams has 76 carries this season, which ranks 46th in the NFL. Of the 15 teams with a running back getting more carries than Jones, only the Minnesota Vikings have a secondary running back getting more carries than Williams.

Vikings starter Dalvin Cook has 214 carries, and backup Alexander Mattison has 82. As a team, the Vikings rank fourth in the NFL and have 73 more carries than the Packers, so there have been many more opportunities to spread around.

Now that Jones has reached the late season healthy and preserved, LaFleur left open the possibility his star tailback could move into a more primary role, saying he could “potentially envision it happening in the future." Such a chance does not appear imminent, however.

“We have a lot of confidence in Jamaal,” LaFleur said, “and I think it’s best for us right now to continue and have a one-two punch with those two guys.”

Regardless of Williams’ opportunities in the offense, LaFleur said he wants to get Jones more involved than he’s been.

In four games without top receiver Davante Adams, Jones had 77 touches and 551 yards. He was especially prominent in the passing game, where he had 22 catches on 27 targets for 212 yards. Since Adams’ return, as the offense has slumped, Jones has just 35 touches for 160 yards. He’s had just one catch on four targets in the past three games.

“I think it’s just more of making sure that we make a concerted effort to have him involved ... especially with some of the pass concepts,” LaFleur said. “I still think it’s good for us long-term to make sure that we get both him and Jamaal involved in our plan and have a little bit of a rotation there with those guys. There are certain situations where definitely we want 33 (Jones) in the game.”

JK Scott's slump endures

Before the Packers traveled to Kansas City last month, punter JK Scott made a seemingly slight change to his operation, compensating for the Chiefs' potentially explosive punt return unit.

Instead of dropping the football from his hands low to the ground, a technique designed to drive the football for distance, the Packers decided Scott would drop the football higher. That technique was designed to maximize hang time, diminishing the Chiefs’ chance to return his punt.

“Which was really a bad idea,” Scott said, “for a windy game. So that caused a little problem.”

Scott was punting at a Pro Bowl level entering that Week 8 game. He was averaging 49.2 yards per punt on the season, and he was coming off consecutive games of averaging 55.3 yards on three punts against Oakland and 51.7 yards on three punts against Detroit.

Since Kansas City, Scott has fallen into a deep slump. He’s averaging 36.5 yards per punt in his past four games, and in none of those games has he averaged more than 37.6 yards per punt.

“In the last few weeks,” Scott said, “I’ve been a little bit more technical with it. I feel like I haven’t been as free and just as going after the ball, kind of thing. Just a little bit more technical, been thinking about it more.”

Scott admitted the past four games has affected his confidence. He has tried to rebuild it in practice, but that’s been difficult because of inconsistencies. Scott said he’ll punt well one day, not so well the next.

He’s also lowered his drop, trying to get more distance on his punts.

“My goal this week,” Scott said, “has been, like, make sure my line is good, make sure my drop is good when I punt, and then in the team periods just let it loose. Don’t even think about it. that’s been my goal for this week. You don’t want to let the fundamentals just completely go. You want to keep those things dialed in, but that’s been my goal just to kind of go after it this week.”

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