Big hit in trenches again a worthwhile goal for Packers

Offensive tackle is the priority this year that guard was last year

200416-pre-draft-picture-OL-2560
G Elgton Jenkins

This is the fourth in a series of stories that's examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft. The series continues with the offensive line.

GREEN BAY – Last year, the Packers addressed the guard position early in the draft and believe they found a mainstay there for the next decade in Elgton Jenkins.

This year, the tackle position is in a similar spot on the team's radar.

While losing veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga in free agency, the Packers did sign Rick Wagner from Detroit, so the need at tackle for 2020 isn't of the immediate, four-alarm variety it otherwise might have been.

But it's still in the acute category, with Wagner 30 years old, late-season pickup Jared Veldheer unsigned, and four-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari entering a contract year.

Turning 29 this fall, Bakhtiari remains one of the team's most fortuitous and prescient draft picks this century. Seven years ago, the Packers landed a franchise tackle in the fourth round, a true NFL rarity.

He has a cleaner health history and more decorated career than Bulaga (though the 2010 first-rounder was often underrated and underappreciated outside Green Bay's locker room). So it stands to reason the Packers will make a stronger push to keep him when the time comes, but even then there are still no guarantees.

And with all the other tackles on the roster unproven, developmental prospects – practice squad holdovers Yosh Nijman and Cody Conway, late-season signee John Leglue, and occasionally used backup Alex Light (who can also play guard) – addressing the future of the position in the early rounds of the draft is a strong likelihood.

Doing so at guard worked well in 2019. The Packers selected Jenkins out of Mississippi State in the second round, at No. 44 overall, and the three-year college starter at center made a smooth transition to guard.

He stepped in for an injured Lane Taylor in September and never looked back, garnering PFWA All-Rookie honors, the first Packers offensive lineman to do so since center Corey Linsley in 2014, and the first Green Bay guard to earn the recognition since Daryn Colledge in 2006.

On the other side of Linsley is right guard Billy Turner, a free-agent signing a year ago who remains a bit of a wild card in the future of the unit. Turner was signed in part because of his versatility, having played tackle in the past. He's an option at tackle if the Packers want to try him there, but with a normal offseason program not in the offing, a switch like that right now appears less and less plausible.

Take a look at photos of Packers G Elgton Jenkins from the 2019 season.

The Packers' depth on the interior of the offensive line is more established, with former starting guard Taylor coming back from a season-ending biceps injury and swing lineman Lucas Patrick signed to an extension late last season.

Undrafted from Duke four years ago, Patrick has started six games at guard in his career and made two extended relief appearances at center for Linsley last season. Having earned a ton of respect in the locker room the hard way, Patrick is served well by his smarts and work ethic, and he gives the coaches comfort knowing they have a ready-made substitute at any of the three interior positions.

The future of that interior is slightly up in the air, too. Linsley is in the final year of his current contract and guard Cole Madison, after a year away from football to focus on his mental health and then an unfortunate season-ending knee injury last November, is still an unknown with an uncertain timeline.

So looking for additional depth and a future prospect there is a good possibility, too. Jenkins moving back to his college position at center can't be ruled out down the line, but either way, if the Packers are going to find another inside gem in the fourth or fifth round (like Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, JC Tretter or Linsley), no one would complain if it's sooner than later.

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