GREEN BAY – Over the past three of his four NFL seasons, Elgton Jenkins has been the man on the move when injuries have struck the Packers' offensive line.
The versatile veteran has stepped in wherever asked, without complaint, and performed at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. The only exception might've been early last season, when he recovered from a major injury of his own and took a while to settle back in.
But he eventually did return to his prior form, and it was no accident that occurred when – after beginning 2022 with a fill-in stint at right tackle – he moved back to his ol' stomping grounds at left guard midway through the season.
Now the hope is that he gets to stay there. Another year removed from his ACL surgery, he's looking forward to being the Elgton of old in more ways than one.
"It's going to be fun, being able to have a whole season, a whole camp just working at one position and perfecting my craft," Jenkins said following a recent OTA practice. "I'm expecting big things from myself and I know my coach and everyone else is. So it's just up from here."
His career tally includes at least three starts at four different positions. Left guard has been home for 36 of his 53 regular-season starts, and the rest break down as follows: eight at left tackle, six at right tackle, three at center.
While the Packers can't bank on their run of injuries up front to stop, the idea behind Jenkins staying put is founded upon two things – the group bringing back its most experienced corps of linemen in recent memory to provide greater depth across the board, and second-year pro Zach Tom possibly becoming the new versatile, plug-n-play piece.
Tom is expected to compete for a starting spot at right guard or right tackle, or maybe even center. But last year's fourth-round pick from Wake Forest also proved as a rookie he could step in seamlessly at almost any spot, a la Jenkins, who has been impressed with Tom's approach and confidence as a young player.
The elder and 2020 Pro Bowler is happy to mentor Tom for the role if it comes to that, as Jenkins has confessed that with left tackle David Bakhtiari the only more experienced pro in the position group, he has to get accustomed to being one of the older guys anyway.
"All the young guys call me 'OG' and all that," Jenkins said, smiling. "Four years ago, I was a younger guy, but I've crossed over."
A new contract will do that, too, which Jenkins earned just before Christmas last year when he showed he was all the way back from his knee injury. That's when "he was looking like Elgton Jenkins," according to offensive line coach Luke Butkus.
With the battles on the right side of the line sure to heat up come training camp, Jenkins mentioned that he and Bakhtiari have discussed forming "the best left side in the NFL."
It's a lofty goal, but that would go a long way toward smoothing the offensive transition at quarterback to Jordan Love. Due to Bakhtiari's knee injury just prior to the 2020 regular-season finale and then Jenkins' ACL in November 2021, those two have lined up next to each other at their standard posts for just six of the Packers' last 38 games, including playoffs.
If less is in flux with the team's two best linemen, the competition can sort out the right side and the group can move forward together beginning with Week 1. Sure, there's always the caveat of the best laid plans and all, but every unit needs its anchors and leaders, and Jenkins certainly qualifies as both.
"With the young guys, all you want is just effort, energy," he said. "Everything else will just take care of itself."