Moving Packers' Elgton Jenkins back to guard could strengthen offensive line

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – Watching Elgton Jenkins struggle at right tackle may be all the impetus the Green Bay Packers need to move him back to his old left guard position.

Jenkins made the Pro Bowl team as a guard in 2020, despite starting three games at center and one at right tackle. Inserted into the lineup next to franchise tackle David Bakhtiari in Week 3 of his rookie season, Jenkins looked like he would be the team’s left guard for the next decade or more.

The NFC championship game against Tampa Bay in January 2021, however, was the last time he played guard. After filling in for Bakhtiari for eight games last year, his season ended when he tore the ACL in his left knee in Minnesota. After going through a 10-month rehab, Jenkins returned, but this time it was at right tackle.

At times it hasn’t been pretty and it’s logical to wonder whether he should have been returned to guard so he’d be more comfortable while he gets himself back to form. It has been different watching Jenkins give up more sacks (three) and pressures (six) than he did the entire 2020 regular season.

The Packers put him at right tackle because it was the best option with tackle Yosh Nijman having to fill Bakhtiari’s spot and then rotate with him as the veteran returned from his knee injury. They knew there would be some bumps in the road for Jenkins.

Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins walks off the field after a loss against the New York Giants.

“He definitely doesn't look like himself, or 100% what he was before the injury, there's no doubt about that,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. “He's played a lot of reps at tackle before he got hurt, so you could kind of see him moving on the edge, and you knew what he was about.

“But at the same time, you know, it's a process. It's going to be a process. And he's one of our leaders, especially in that offensive line room. I’ve got all the faith that he's going to right the ship and do a great job.”

The debacle that was the 27-10 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday will precipitate change. There’s almost no way the Packers can start Royce Newman at right guard after he gave up 1½ sacks, two pressures and a quarterback knockdown and committed at least one crucial mental error.

Jenkins had his own issues (2½ quarterback knockdowns and two pressures) against the Jets, but he has a body of work that supports the Packers’ conviction that he’ll turn things around. He also has been playing out of position.

Assuming Newman heads to the bench, Nijman would take over at right tackle and Jenkins would be bumped back to guard. The best spot for him and the Packers could be left guard where he’s played the most. Left guard Jon Runyan has experience playing both guard positions and could easily move to the right side, although that’s a lot of shuffling to do in one week.

Jenkins said returning to guard would require some adjustments.

Asked if it would be like riding a bike, he said, “More like riding a tricycle. It’s not foreign to me. It’s something I did in college, and I did my first two years here and I feel like if that is to happen it will be all good.”

As Stenavich said, getting Jenkins performing at 100% is a process and Jenkins didn’t disagree. He said he goes back and watches all the film he can of himself to see if he can fix things. But some of it is just being patient because even though the knee is completely healed, it’s not functioning at full strength yet.

“Coming back from an ACL is tough,” Jenkins said. “There’s a lot of physical and mental aspects of the game that you have to overcome. So, I’m just doing that and going out and getting better every day, just knowing that you have to keep working and perfecting your craft.”

Stenavich said the offensive line knows it failed the offense last week, but he said it’s possible to put a bad game behind them and move forward. They’ve done it before.

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Whatever shuffling the Packers do Sunday against Washington might help in the long run, Stenavich said anytime you make a change in the lineup, it takes awhile for the benefits to be fully realized.

“When you decide you want to make a change, you make the change and kind of stick with it, because it's not going to be perfect right away,” Stenavich said. “The first day of practice, if it doesn't look great, you can't just scrap it, you know what I mean? You got to say alright, this is what we're doing.

“And give it a week. Give it two weeks and just make sure you know that that's the right decision.”

Patience will be the key both with Jenkins and whatever changes the Packers make.

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