With David Bakhtiari still out, Packers making the most of Yosh Nijman's versatility

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – As their Sept. 11 opener at the Minnesota Vikings approaches in the late stages of training camp, the Green Bay Packers' starting offensive line remains a fluid situation.

Offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said Thursday the Packers have developed contingency plans for several possibilities based on who’s available Week 1. Elgton Jenkins was activated off the physically unable to perform list Sunday, four weeks before the opener, but it’s uncertain he’ll be ready to play from the season’s first game. David Bakhtiari’s activation date remains unknown.

Stenavich said the Packers are preparing for any and all options.

“It’s like, all right, here’s our plan if we have David,” Stenavich said. “Here’s our plan if we have Elgton. And here’s our plan if we have both. And then what if we don’t have any of them, OK, who are our best five? It is everything, and you really have to be ready for everything. That’s what I think (offensive line coach Luke) Butkus does a great job everyday of just making sure these guys are in the right spot to get certain looks at certain positions and stuff.

“We’re still trying to sort everything out.”

Since camp’s opening days, the Packers have groomed Yosh Nijman to be their starting left tackle early this season if Bakhtiari isn’t ready. Nijman started eight games at left tackle last season, though the playoff loss to San Francisco wasn’t one of them.

Nijman had a handful of reps at right tackle in camp, but none since Aug. 1. That’s around the time, Jenkins said, his knee felt healthy and it was apparent he could return from PUP during camp.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates with offensive lineman Yosh Nijman after throwing for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021.

Jenkins is the Packers' best left tackle – and guard, if not also center – if Bakhtiari remains on PUP when the season starts. Coach Matt LaFleur has said selecting starter jobs on the offensive line isn’t about one player at a specific position, but a collection of the best five. While Jenkins is an above-average starter anywhere he lines up, the Packers have shown they’re more comfortable with Nijman at left tackle than the right side.

“He’s got all the tools and all that stuff to do that,” Stenavich said. “Your right tackle is not necessarily your run-blocking guy, and your left tackle is only the pass-pro guy. There’s good defensive ends both sides that he’s going to have to block. It’s just basically him just playing with his fundamentals on both sides, and I think when he goes to the right side, he kind of struggles with that. He just has to focus on being able to do both.”

If Nijman and Jenkins are the Packers' bookend tackles Week 1, their offensive line becomes much more stable. It would leave right guard as the only unsettled position, with Josh Myers at center and Jon Runyan at left guard. Royce Newman, Jake Hanson and rookie Zach Tom would be left to compete for the right guard job.

The big question is how the Packers would configure their offensive line if Bakhtiari somehow returns for Week 1. That possibility decreases each day he’s left on the PUP list, but it also presents the Packers with a good problem to have.

Bakhtiari presumably would retain his job at left tackle, removing Nijman from Aaron Rodgers’ blindside. They could slide Nijman over to right tackle and kick Elgton Jenkins inside to guard, where he was a Pro Bowler in 2020.

That plan only works if Nijman is able to translate his play at left tackle to the right side. If not, Nijman could give the Packers depth at tackle, a luxury many NFL teams lack. It could also leave the right guard position vulnerable.

“I think he’s got to concentrate more once he gets over there of just being able to flip his brain fundamentally on the right side,” Stenavich said. “That’s one thing that I’d love to see him do a better job.”

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