Packers ponder how to fit Billy Turner back into offensive line mix
GREEN BAY - The past two weeks, the Green Bay Packers have functioned quite well on the offensive line without starting right tackle Billy Turner.
Thanks to veteran Rick Wagner stepping in after a series of injuries to guards Lane Taylor and Lucas Patrick during the Minnesota game in Week 1, the right side has been well-manned. Wagner has held his own and made a case for being in the starting lineup.
Turner is getting closer to a return from a sprained right knee and so coach Matt LaFleur will soon have to decide whether he’s better off with Lucas Patrick at right guard and Turner at right tackle or playing both Turner and Wagner together.
If it’s the latter, it would mean moving Turner back to right guard, the position he started at for 18 games last season but hasn’t played since the end of the 2019 season.
“Like I’ve said all along, we’re going to try to put our five best out there and if it’s with Billy at guard then that’s the route we’ll go,” LaFleur said. “But I always think, yeah, it is a little bit of a transition (for Turner).
“Thankfully, he’s got a lot of experience at both guard and tackle, so we feel pretty good about him no matter where we put him. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to roll.”
Turner suited up for the Detroit game Sunday, but he was only going to be used for emergency purposes. While LaFleur thought he could have played, he decided it would be best if he held him out and rested his knee another week.
Turner returned to practice Wednesday and will have two weeks of rehab in before the Packers play the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday night.
"Billy played probably about half his reps this camp at guard, so that’s not a big adjustment for him," offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. "We’re just trying to get our best five out there and unfortunately we’ve had some injuries so far – nothing we can’t handle – and we’re just going to keep finding the best combination of guys however it unfolds."
He would be facing a heavy diet of Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is one of the best at his position in the NFL and will be a headache all night long. LaFleur felt Turner was his best choice for right tackle early in camp and so he may feel he is a better option against Jordan.
New Orleans’ two other outside pass rushers, Marcus Davenport (elbow) and Trey Hendrickson (groin), were held out of practice Wednesday. Davenport, a 2018 first-round pick, has not played this season and Hendrickson leads the team in sacks with two.
Davante Adams: Packers 'don't need me'
Packers star wide receiver Davante Adams said Wednesday it’s too early to tell if his injured hamstring will allow him to play Sunday night in New Orleans, and he admitted it probably would have been a bit foolish to have continued to play on it Sunday against the Lions.
“Yeah, it probably wouldn’t have been too smart,” Adams said.” I think we made the right decision. I think we all came to the conclusion that would be best. But just the gamer in me just always wants to get out there and try to fight through anything, just for my team, for myself. I don’t ever want to take any time off. Anytime I have to leave a game it’s gonna suck.”
With Adams playing 52% of the Packers’ snaps against the Lions, the Packers handed it off 31 times and gained 257 yards on the ground. Aaron Rodgers connected with six other pass catchers in the victory. In 2019, the Packers went 4-0 without Adams and averaged 32.5 points per game.
“Yeah man, they don't need me,” Adams quipped. “They don't need me. That's what it boils down to.”
He added: “It shows how mentally tough they are and how they're able to just adjust on the fly and make things happen based off of unfortunate circumstances that can turn into a fortunate circumstance for guys who are gonna get more opportunities on the field now because of that. And just having that adversity, me being able to experience that along with them, it's a little bit test of character, but last year just showed that we have the right type of guys on our team all around.”
Rodgers agreed, but said having the three-time Pro Bowler on the field is necessary because of what his presence forces opponents to do.
“We always need Davante, he’s so damn talented,” Rodgers said. “I think what we learned was maybe just how damn talented he is. He’s a game-changer and he changes the way defenses play.”
Williams finding a niche
In the spring of 2018, the San Francisco 49ers made a splash free-agent signing by giving running back Jerrick McKinnon a four-year, $30 million contract. It surprised many, because the 25-year-old was coming off four years in Minnesota as a complementary back, a player who never ran for more than 570 yards in a season but had reliable hands (142 catches) and the average annual value of the deal made him the fourth-highest paid at his position at the time.
The spring of 2021 may see Jamaal Williams hitting the free-agent market after yet another solid season of complementary football in the Packers’ backfield. Williams and Aaron Jones are both in the final years of their deal, but Williams is not as widely discussed as a free agent-to-be. That may change if he continues to play at a high level.
“Jamaal has improved in every aspect of life,” Jones said. “We've done a lot of growing together. On the football field, he came back and cut down his body fat by a lot. He can pretty much do anything you need him to do. He's very versatile. He can go out there and run routes. He can get in pass protection and block anybody. He can run somebody over, so and then like you said, that juice, that energy that he brings, teams need that and he's that guy for us."
The 25-year-old Williams has 84 yards rushing (5.6 average) and four catches for 21 yards and, if he remains healthy, could wind up with production much like McKinnon’s. Williams could be an attractive option for a team betting on a veteran running back that could produce more in a bigger role.
"Honestly I just play my game,” Williams said in August regarding his status on the team. “I can't predict the future. I've loved every minute I've been here with the Packers. Shoot, it's been love, nothing since I've been here. Man, it's just great memories. But at the same time, I'm just making sure I'm doing what I can to make myself a better player, football player, a weapon and just a person you want on your team.”
Packers add tight end
The Packers brought undrafted rookie tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart in for a workout Monday and he was on the practice field Wednesday as the newest addition to the practice squad. The club made room for him by releasing outside linebacker Greg Roberts off the practice squad.
Griffin-Stewart is 6-5 and 252 pounds and played last year at the University of Pittsburgh as a graduate transfer from Rutgers. He caught 19 passes for 185 yards and a score last year.
Minnesota signed Griffin-Stewart after the draft but he did not make the Vikings’ final roster.