Packers must shuffle offensive line after losing right guard Lane Taylor for season

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - When it came to injuries on his offensive line, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFeur lived a charmed life last season.

From Week 3 on, there was only one missed start.

This year, he isn’t that lucky. He did not have right tackle Billy Turner (knee injury) for the season opener and now he won’t have right guard Lane Taylor (knee injury that requires surgery) for the rest of the season and might not have backup guard Lucas Patrick (shoulder) this week and beyond.

When Taylor went down in the fourth quarter of the 43-34 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, it was apparent it was a serious injury. After undergoing an MRI Monday, Taylor received confirmation that he would need season-ending surgery.

“My heart goes out to him,” LaFleur said Monday. “Just battling back from the significant injury that he had last year (torn biceps) and to get to a position where he was in our starting lineup, (he) certainly he will be missed. I feel bad for him as an athlete, as a man.”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) checks on guard Lane Taylor (65) after he was injured against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Green Bay won 43-34.

A year ago, Taylor’s injury opened the door for second-round pick Elgton Jenkins to take over the job after sharing it the first two weeks with Taylor. Jenkins wound up earning first-team all-rookie honors and is so valued that the coaches had no hesitation moving him to right tackle to replace Turner in the opener.

This year, Taylor’s injury could create a starting opportunity for sixth-round pick Jon Runyan, who was forced into the game with 11 minutes, 50 seconds left and held his own despite it being his first game snaps of any kind since entering the NFL.

“When he came in at the end of the game, it was impressive by him to be sitting on the bench for three quarters,” center Corey Linsley said. “So, three quarters he’s sitting on the bench and he comes in and finishes out the game strong. That’s huge.”

It was even more impressive given he played exclusively at left guard in camp.

“For him to step inside there on the right side and perform at the level that there wasn’t a drop-off, I thought that was a tremendous credit to his mentality and his preparation,” LaFleur said.

LaFleur and his staff had a tough decision this past week on whether to move Jenkins to right tackle or go with veteran Rick Wagner, who had injured his left elbow in camp and was practicing with a heavy brace. He said he wanted to start his best five on the offensive line, so he moved Jenkins to right tackle and started Patrick at left guard.

When Patrick injured his shoulder in the first half against the Vikings, Jenkins moved back to left guard and Wagner came in at right tackle.

Wagner, it turned out, was more than ready to play. He took part in 46 snaps and played at a level befitting his seven years of experience as an NFL starter. As a result, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked down only twice and was not sacked.

“I thought Rick did an outstanding job,” LaFleur said. “I was really proud of him. I thought, as a whole, the offensive line did a great job.”

This week, LaFleur and his staff will have other decisions to make.

First, they need to determine whether Turner is ready to return from his sprained right knee. The veteran practiced once last week with a brace on his right knee and LaFleur said he’s hopeful that Turner will be able to play.

If Turner can play, LaFleur then must see whether Patrick is healthy enough to play. Patrick would be a candidate to take over Taylor’s spot.

But if Wagner’s performance was that good and LaFleur is serious about starting his five best linemen, he might want to return Turner to right guard – the position at which he started all 18 games last season – and start Wagner at right tackle.

Even though Turner practiced almost exclusively at right tackle during camp, he prepared in the offseason to play both guard and tackle and would likely have no problem returning to his former position.

Though Runyan held his own in 15 snaps at right guard, Week 2 opponent Detroit will have all week to figure how out to stress the position if the rookie is playing there. The safer play may be to move Turner back to guard and start Wagner at right tackle.

LaFleur has the rest of the week to figure it all out.

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