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As Packers' left tackle, Rasheed Walker found way to 'just chill, relax'

Seventh-round pick in 2022 turned second season into impressive blindside audition for Green Bay

T Rasheed Walker
T Rasheed Walker

GREEN BAY – Rasheed Walker can't recall exactly which game it was, but before it, he woke up feeling relaxed and in a good state of mind, and he didn't want anything to disrupt that.

"So I changed my pregame routine," Walker said after the Packers wrapped up their season. "I used to do too much. I used to overthink a lot, be studying a lot before the game and trying to do a bunch of pass sets.

"It got to a point I just didn't do (anything). I'd just sit in my locker until the game, and not listen to no music. Just chill, relax."

The second-year pro credited that better mental state to his improved play at left tackle as the 2023 season wore on. There's an argument to be made Walker, who appeared in just one game for all of four special-teams snaps as a rookie in 2022, was the most improved player on the entire roster this past season.

So much so the former seventh-round pick from Penn State might be the Packers' left tackle of the future, as David Bakhtiari's injury history and massive salary cap charge for 2024 leave a lot of uncertainty as to his return.

Walker's play certainly makes it easier for the Packers to move on from the five-time All-Pro should they choose to, but the 6-6, 324-pounder is taking nothing for granted.

"It's never enough," he said. "Always gotta do more. But as long as I'm on the field, I'm gonna do what I've gotta do."

That was his approach throughout a 2023 season during which Walker didn't know exactly where he stood at different times.

He got his first NFL start in Week 2 in place of Bakhtiari and held the job until being replaced by Yosh Nijman in the middle of the Week 8 loss to Minnesota. Nijman started the following week vs. the Rams but got hurt, so Walker was back in, and then the two rotated during games for a little over a month.

By Christmas Eve in Carolina, Walker was back to taking all the snaps at left tackle, locking down the gig. He called the benching and rotating a learning experience in the ultra-scrutinized world of the NFL.

"You just gotta perform," he said. "Production-based business. You can have a million excuses, but at the end of the day, you gotta perform.

"It was definitely a good lesson, like, stuff not going your way, every action has a consequence. My whole thing was I just wasn't going to quit. I could have had a bad attitude, and been like, 'Man this is BS, I shouldn't have got benched.' But I just took advantage of the opportunity to get better, and when I got my next opportunity I just (had to) prove to myself and to everybody that I could play."

Some of the biggest strides he made were on the mental side, cutting down on pre-snap penalties and any assignment issues. Getting steadier mentally allowed the physical gifts of his massive frame to take over.

"At the beginning of the year, there was always a false-start penalty or just some mental lapse, and he's done a lot better job recently controlling those," offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said of Walker around mid-December, when the rotation with Nijman was being scrapped.

"As you become a more veteran player, you just become more dialed into the certain situations that are happening. I'm fired up about Rasheed and what he's been doing on the field. He plays hard. He's got really good athleticism. All he just needs is just the game reps to go be a left tackle in the NFL."

That's where the more relaxed pre-game routine came in. He also started to mesh well with Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins, who smiles when asked about Walker because he considers him a funny guy behind his gruff, no-nonsense exterior.

When Walker initially had to step in for Bakhtiari, Jenkins delivered the same message Bakhtiari did to him as a rookie in 2019, when starting left guard Lane Taylor got hurt early and Jenkins' number was called – the standards and expectations don't change. As daunting as it sounds, Jenkins felt that push helped him as a young player, and he wanted to help Walker the same way.

"He's a dog, man," Jenkins said. "He's athletically gifted. The mindset that he comes with on Sunday … it's very special. He definitely grew a lot from his first couple games to the stretch (run) that we made."

General Manager Brian Gutekunst was equally praiseworthy after the season, crediting Walker for an offseason work ethic that began his steady improvement, followed by being "a warrior out there" fighting through various bumps and bruises. He's one of many young players the GM sees with a bright future.

When it was all said and done, Walker started 17 of 19 games (including playoffs), taking 974 of 1,214 total snaps (80%). He wasn't perfect, but he battled several of the league's top blindside pass rushers and held his own.

As long as all is fine health-wise (he was in a walking boot two days after the loss to the 49ers but declined to discuss the injury), Walker will likely begin 2024 as the front-runner to start at left tackle. But with the Packers owning five draft picks in the top 100, they could make an investment there for depth and competition.

Green Bay has spent only one top 100 pick on an offensive tackle since 2016, and that was 2022 third-rounder Sean Rhyan, who's possibly in line to take over at right guard. If a first-rounder is brought in, Walker is the less established of the Packers' young tackles compared to Zach Tom on the right side, so the left side might be where the battle would be waged.

That's all hypothetical for now, but whatever transpires, Walker will just roll with it. He's confident in who he is and what he brings to the table.

"That's above me, but I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I'm contributing to my team," he said. "I don't make those decisions. All I can do is do what I do, put that (stuff) on film, and let the people who make those decisions decide.

"I had no doubt, I always knew I was a good player. It just took time to get acclimated, because the whole team, we were trying to jell together as a whole offense. Once we all started clicking, I feel like it got to bring the best out of everybody."

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