Challenges await, but Packers' offensive line promises to be ready

Successfully navigating constant adversity last year serves as preparation for 2021

Offensive line/run game coordinator Adam Stenavich, T/G Cole Van Lanen and T/G Royce Newman

GREEN BAY – If any position group is prepared for the challenges 2021 will present, it's the Packers' offensive line.

The unit must find a new center to replace All-Pro Corey Linsley, and it has to navigate an uncertain timetable for All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari's return.

But those issues don't feel as daunting as they otherwise might after what Green Bay's group went through a year ago, when injuries at different times to Billy Turner, Bakhtiari and Linsley led to six different starting lineups being used, and none for more than three consecutive games at a time.

Other impromptu combinations were required, too, due to in-game injuries, as rookie Jon Runyan played more than 150 snaps at guard in 2020 yet never started a game.

Through all that, the Packers maintained the highest-scoring offense in the league and had few issues protecting Aaron Rodgers until the NFC title game.

"We had a pretty mature room last year, which I think was important," guard Lucas Patrick said last week, reflecting on 2020. "(We had) guys who had played at different positions or guys who had played enough football to move fluidly amongst the line."

While the players' versatility and resolve were invaluable, Patrick was just as quick to credit offensive line coaches Adam Stenavich and Luke Butkus for keeping everyone prepared for, well, anything.

Patrick explained that all the position shuffling and adjusting worked because Stenavich set clear expectations for every member of the unit and then pushed them to meet or exceed those expectations.

"He forces us to get better," Patrick said. "Just going through the motions isn't good enough, and he always has a plan, always working us at different positions and creating some flexibility amongst our line, trying to get the best five out there."

That approach won't change in 2021 as the Packers prepare for life without Linsley and, possibly, without Bakhtiari in the early stages of the season – though no one is ruling out the ultra-determined Bakhtiari successfully completing a rapid ACL rehab in time to play Week 1, despite an early January surgery.

Judging by the reps doled out in the two OTA workouts open to the media thus far, rookie second-round pick Josh Myers will be given a crack at taking Linsley's place.

The Ohio State product has been snapping with the first unit during 11-on-11 periods in practice, and the Packers are going to see how soon he can be ready.

Stenavich described the process as starting at "ground zero" with a rookie learning a new offense and the techniques and responsibilities involved, and that process is young but underway.

"The good news with Josh is he's played at a big-time program, very experienced guy in a lot of big games in college, so he's able to handle a lot of things mentally," Stenavich said. "It's just a matter of getting him reps and getting him confident and hopefully we can get him going as fast as possible."

Similar to last year, the flexibility of veterans Elgton Jenkins, Turner and Patrick will give the Packers options when the time comes to make decisions. Jenkins can play all five positions across the line, Turner has played everywhere but center, and Patrick can play any of the three interior positions.

In the meantime, Stenavich also will work to figure out where all the young additions – six selections in all over the last two drafts – fit best.

Runyan (2020, sixth round), Royce Newman (2021, fourth round) and Cole Van Lanen (2021, sixth round) are lining up at different spots here and there as the coaches get early looks at them and test their ability to see the game from varied angles.

In addition, former undrafted free agent Ben Braden, who entered the league in 2017 and has spent parts of the last two seasons on the Packers' practice squad, has taken some reps with the first and second units at tackle and guard as well. Stenavich pegged him as one who will compete for a starting job.

"Right now, I just want to keep everything broad and get them as many reps as possible to see how it shakes out once camp rolls around," Stenavich said.

Overall, the spirit of the unit seems to be embodied in Bakhtiari, the longest-tenured Packers' lineman by at least four years now who has been off to the side during OTAs grinding away at his rehab and making his presence felt as a spectator.

With his injury happening so late last season, there was no telling how many games in 2021 he'd have to miss, and now there's reasonable belief he might not miss any.

Whether or not Bakhtiari achieves that lofty goal is almost beside the point. It's the fact that nothing can be put past him, which goes for the offensive line he leads as well.

"When you have the best at a position on your team and in your room, they just raise everyone's standards," Patrick said. "He never blinks in the face of adversity. He always answers with the right mentality, the right work ethic, and it's a testament to who he is as a person to still come out here and pour into myself and all the guys who are younger than him, still trying to make this team better."

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