Packers' offensive line is a work in progress as they search for the best combinations
GREEN BAY – By the time training camp is over, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur will be able to tell you how his starting offensive line will line up.
Until then, it’s anybody’s guess who will be playing where.
It’s not just that left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is recovering from a torn ACL, might not be there, it’s that LaFleur has a half-dozen or more young linemen fighting for one or both guard spots as well as several backup positions that history has shown will be crucial during a long season.
"There's competition everywhere,” LaFleur said. “But specifically, those interior spots for sure. Really, every position is always up for competition.”
LaFleur’s often-spoken decree that the five best linemen will start regardless of position isn’t overstated given the versatility the Packers require of their linemen. Currently, left guard Elgton Jenkins is playing in Bakhtiari’s spot, guard Billy Turner is playing right tackle and just about everyone else is playing at least two positions.
Veteran Lucas Patrick started 15 games last season (four at left guard and 11 at right guard) and even he is being asked to rotate positions with guards Jon Runyan and Ben Braden, and take snaps at center.
“I love competition,” Patrick said. “I’m speaking as frankly as I can: I think the NFL is awesome because you have a healthy fear for your job. The scouts, they're scouting people, they're scouting thousands of college kids and scouting guys on different NFL teams and scouting guys who were free agents.
“I've had that mentality since day one. Like, it doesn't matter if I've started 100 games, zero games, I'm going to approach it the same. It's competition to me.”
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On the No. 1 unit, Braden typically lines up at left guard when Patrick is in the lineup and on the right side when Runyan is in. Runyan, who played tackle his final three seasons at Michigan, has played exclusively left guard with the ones, but when he’s with the No. 2 unit, he plays right guard and center.
Second-year pro Jake Hanson plays center and left guard with the No. 2s and rookie Royce Newman plays both guard positions. With the No. 3s, Zack Johnson and rookie Jon Dietzen play both guard positions and rookie Jacob Capra plays left guard and center.
At this point, the coaches are sacrificing continuity in the hopes they’ll find the right combination of players to get through an entire season. The continuity part will come as camp progresses and the preseason games start.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces up front, a lot of younger guys,” said Runyan, who was pressed into action in Week 1 last year at guard. “And we’re trying to build these connections and just the chemistry and getting everybody's fits right and be more comfortable to everybody.
“We’ve got a lot of guys rotating around, in and out everywhere. And that (comfort) just comes by reps. And you don't really know really what you have until you’re going against a different team. And then you can kind of see what you're made of.”
Until then, the revolving door keeps spinning.
New Lambeau experience
A good number of players on the roster have not been inside Lambeau Field when the seats are filled.
All of the team’s newcomers last year, played the majority of their games with no fans in the stands due to COVID-19, so when the Packers allow for full capacity for their annual night practice inside the stadium, Saturday it will be a new experience for roughly half the 90-man roster.
“I think it's going to be great, especially for our young players that maybe have not had an opportunity to play in front of big crowds,” LaFleur said. “It's almost like their first preseason game. And that's how we're going to treat it, especially at the end of that night in terms of just getting some live action.
“We’re super excited to have our fans back in the stands. And there's just so much energy and excitement that goes along with that.”
Rodgers took care of arm in offseason
Normally, quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t do an extraordinary amount of throwing in the offseason.
So, he said skipping out on OTAs and the minicamp didn’t really affect his accuracy or arm strength. He said he didn’t have receivers to throw to working out at his gym in California, but he found some replacements who were eager to help.
"I had some great guys to throw to in the basketball guys from CAA who were working out,” Rodgers said. “I would go in the gym and do my 50 to 75 throws a day. And they every now and then want to jump in.”
Rodgers said among the “receivers” was 6-9 former NBA center Al Harrington.
When he reported to training camp, Rodgers requested there be a daily maximum of throws to help preserve his arm and LaFleur was happy to oblige. Rodgers said since he’s turned 30, he’s set limits on throws per day because sometimes the numbers would fluctuate dramatically, and it caused wear and tear on his arm.
“We talked about 80 throws. I didn’t hit that threshold I don’t think any of the days in the first week or so. Once we get past the first week, I’m good to go.”
The NFL Players Association lists the Packers with $11.9 million in cap space after restructuring Rodgers’ contract, trading for receiver Randall Cobb and signing free agent tackle Dennis Kelly.
The Packers didn’t need the cap space to accommodate Cobb’s restructured deal or take on Kelly’s salary, but they created additional room to allow them to spend money on any free agents they may need during the season.
Any cap space they have left over at the end of this year can be carried over to 2022.
The Packers claimed DE/OLB Chauncey Rivers from Baltimore and released long snapper Joe Fortunato.
The 6-2, 262-pound Rivers played at Georgia for a year, East Mississippi Community College for a year and Mississippi State for two years. He had 7½ sacks in two seasons and was a second-team all-SEC selection in 2019.
The Ravens signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and spent most of the year on the practice squad, spending one week on the active roster.