Green Bay Packers optimistic that jovial giant Yosh Nijman can capitalize on opportunity
GREEN BAY - Don’t let the robot dance fool you. Yosh Nijman, all 6-7, 314 pounds of him, might have no problem breaking down at the podium inside the Green Bay Packers media auditorium, where he showed his favorite touchdown celebration on Thanksgiving.
The quiet but jovial giant might cut loose a little after the Packers score. “Sometimes during touchdowns,” he said, “you just black out.” Nijman has been breaking down his dance moves for years. He can remember the time and place, because the movie “You Got Served” came out in 2004, and to hear Nijman tell it, that was the beginning of his dance craze.
“It just kicked off after that,” Nijman said.
In the locker room at Virginia Tech, Nijman would dance. He was a bit more reserved then, not yet gaining a foothold on an NFL career. This week, when the Packers find the end zone, you might see the robot in full force.
It might be easy to mistake Nijman’s dancing as something less serious, something nonchalant, but the Packers' third-string left tackle knows the stakes this week. When Elgton Jenkins tore the ACL in his left knee at Minnesota, Nijman’s world changed. He’s the Packers' left tackle for the foreseeable future, given All-Pro David Bakhtiari’s return from a knee scope earlier this month has delayed returning from his torn ACL.
There was no dancing when Nijman heard Jenkins was lost for the season.
“It was super tough to hear,” Nijman said. “It was like a part of me kind of died inside. I think at that point, just getting ready for the week this week.”
Nijman isn’t new to this. When Jenkins missed three games because of an ankle injury earlier this season, the Packers had what at the time might have been a difficult decision. They could either slide right tackle Billy Turner to the blindside, where he played unevenly for parts of last season, including the playoffs. Or they could take a gamble on Nijman, who had spent two full seasons on the roster but played only 14 snaps.
That the Packers went with Nijman was helpful early this season, keeping other pieces of their offensive line intact, and could be especially beneficial now. Nijman is no longer a newcomer. As he slides into the blindside, he does so with more than 200 snaps already played this season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he saw Nijman’s growth in camp, that he was a blocker who could be relied on.
His growth has only accelerated as practice reps have become pass-blocking snaps.
“He’s been very consistent,” Rodgers said. “Even when he came in the game the other day (in Minnesota), very happy with his performance. Obviously he’s going to get an opportunity now.”
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There’s a sense of optimism within the Packers that Nijman might capitalize on this opportunity. While he is unquestionably a third-string left tackle, and playing with a third-string left tackle is not ideal in late November, Nijman’s athletic traits are impressive, almost startling.
It isn’t a surprise Nijman can do the robot. He’s as nimble as he is big.
“Everyone in this building, on this team, on this staff,” Turner said, “everyone knew what Yosh is and was capable of. To be honest with you, he is probably the most explosive person on this team. Pound for pound, how he moves and how he’s able to move, is honestly second to none. He’s a specimen. So we all knew what he was capable of. It’s just a lot of situations, as time has showed me in this league, you’ve just got to kind of wait for your opportunity.
“Those opportunities come through injury, through negative play. They come in different packages in an offense or a defense. There’s a thousand different ways you can get on the field, and Yosh is finally about to get out there on the field this year and show what he can do.”
This week might be the toughest challenge yet for Nijman to show what he’s capable of doing. He has stood up to San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt, but neither had the help along their interior defensive line like Los Angeles Rams edge rusher Von Miller. While the Packers could protect Nijman schematically with extra blockers, it’s hard to do that when Aaron Donald looms inside.
Coach Matt LaFleur joked this week he was ready to “cry” at the thought of how motivated Donald must be to put last season’s lackluster playoff performance behind him. Donald had only one tackle — and no sacks — last season when the Packers held him in check during the NFC divisional playoff game victory at Lambeau Field. He also had a rib injury that made his very presence on the field uncertain during the week.
There is no mystery surrounding Donald’s availability this week. Donald is coming to Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. He’s bringing Miller with him.
Nijman stands between them and his quarterback.