Challenges don’t stop for Packers’ offensive line

C Corey Linsley, G Elgton Jenkins, T David Bakhtiari
C Corey Linsley, G Elgton Jenkins, T David Bakhtiari

GREEN BAY – Head Coach Matt LaFleur and left tackle David Bakhtiari used the exact same phrase.

They were talking about the Chargers’ pass-rush tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the best pair the Packers will have faced in a few weeks after a gauntlet of dynamos through the season’s first five games.

Their echoing words? These LA guys “can wreck a game.”

Statistically, it’s Bosa doing more wrecking than Ingram this year, with seven sacks to his teammate’s one. Bosa has multiple sacks in each of the last two games and is the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. But Ingram, Bosa’s elder by a few years, has 36 sacks over the last four seasons to his credit, including a pair of double-digit campaigns.

It’s a typical assignment for Packers’ bookend tackles Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, who look at them more collectively than individually, even if in the heat of the game it comes down to one-on-one execution.

“I wouldn’t discredit either one of the guys,” Bakhtiari said. “If Bosa is the one affecting the play, Ingram will clean up and vice versa. They do a good job working hand in hand. When you diagnose the film, you see they work together to try to help one another.

“I think they’re selfless defensive players. All they care about is making sure they affect the play to affect the series enough.”

Bakhtiari and Bulaga have been as reliable as ever in 2019, and the Packers still didn’t miss a beat when backup Alex Light had to fill in for each of them briefly last week.

Light filled in at left tackle for three snaps in Kansas City when Bakhtiari briefly exited in the third quarter, and then he played right tackle for the Packers’ final possessions after Bulaga left with a finger injury.

All indications are Bulaga will have something to protect his finger so he can play, but if anything were to happen, Light got his legs under him last week and his teammates are confident he’ll be prepared.

“It showed just great maturity and being a pro,” LaFleur said of Light’s substitution work. “That was impressive to be ready to go on either side.”

Added Bakhtiari: “He’s quiet, goes about his business the right way. He takes care of what he has to care of. I don’t like to swear, but there’s no extra (garbage) when it comes to Alex Light, and that’s what I think speaks volumes about the type of professional he is.”

The praise is even stronger for Bakhtiari’s new partner on the left side, rookie guard Elgton Jenkins, who stepped into the starting lineup this season in Week 3 and hasn’t looked back.

Bakhtiari believes Jenkins, a second-round draft pick from Mississippi State, should be in the conversation for the all-rookie team if not offensive rookie of the year. His best trait is that nothing’s “too big for him.” If anything, Jenkins’ linemates work to keep his confidence in check.

“At times have to bring him back down to reality, have him understand you don’t want to get too big a head out there or you can get caught going the other direction,” Bakhtiari said. “It’s always good to be like a plateau, consistent, never too high, never too low. That way you’re not riding the waves of the highs and lows.”

It can’t be easy stepping into a veteran offensive line as a rookie, but Jenkins has met every challenge so far.

“He’s got such a great demeanor, such a great personality,” LaFleur said. “Those guys give him a hard time in that room, as they should. That’s just kind of a rite of passage. To his credit, he’s a tough-minded guy. I think we’ve got a lot of good leaders in that room. They’ve really embraced him and taken him in and done a great job of guiding him.”

Bakhtiari joked that any so-called difficulties Jenkins has endured don’t compare to what he faced from veterans Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang when he arrived on the scene six years ago, certainly nothing “abnormal.”

“No, he’s been good,” Bakhtiari said. “I think I can break the news he already hit his rookie wall and he went through it and he did just fine. Now he’s on the up and up.”

That could be where the Packers’ offensive line as a whole is headed as well. The protection of Aaron Rodgers last week in Kansas City had a few rough moments after six weeks of standout work during which Rodgers was sacked just six times.

Bulaga could be having the best season of his career, center Corey Linsley has been his usual, steady self, and free-agent right guard Billy Turner has fit right in as well.

For his part, Bakhtiari has been the victim of far more flags than he’s accustomed to thus far, and the fact that the league made offensive holding a point of emphasis for 2019 appears to be no coincidence.

The three-time All-Pro’s reaction would indicate he hasn’t agreed with every call, so he’s not going to overanalyze them to the point of distraction. “I’m going to keep playing the brand of ball that I know,” he said.

The same goes for the entire unit. Its attention is on Bosa and Ingram, and for good reason.

“Again, another test for Bryan and I,” Bakhtiari said. “I feel like every week it’s some sort of duo. I think maybe that’s what the league is going to. Everyone’s got a duo of pass rushers. But we’ll be ready as always, prepared, and out there to do our brand of football.”

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