Countdown to Camp is a series of stories examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The fifth installment features the offensive line.
GREEN BAY – The leadership torch on the Packers' offensive line has passed seamlessly amongst the homegrown players over the years, and the process is going no differently in 2020.
A half dozen or so seasons ago, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, drafted in 2008 and '09, respectively, were the leaders and mentors. After their departures, the position room became the domain of right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the 2010 first-rounder.
Now it falls to left tackle David Bakhtiari, the 2013 fourth-round pick who's enjoyed the most decorated career of a Green Bay offensive lineman in a generation.
The 6-4, 310-pound blindside protector has been named an Associated Press All-Pro four consecutive seasons (three second-team selections and one first-team nod, in 2018). To put that streak in perspective, the only other offensive tackle in team history to receive All-Pro recognition as regularly is Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg, who had six straight selections (1962-67).
Bakhtiari said during the offseason he welcomes the leadership role, and the transition has been natural thanks to serving as Bulaga's second-in-command, so to speak, in recent years.
That new second is now center Corey Linsley (6-3, 301), drafted one year and one round after Bakhtiari in 2014. Together the duo has started 210 games for the Packers, including playoffs (Bakhtiari 115, Linsley 95), and they anchor a starting five that is undergoing personnel adjustments for the second straight year.
In 2019, free agent Billy Turner (6-5, 310) took over the right guard position and rookie Elgton Jenkins (6-5, 311) stepped in at left guard early in the year after Lane Taylor was lost for the season to a biceps injury. Jenkins went on to be named to the PFWA's All-Rookie Team, the first Packers lineman to earn the honor since Linsley and the first guard since Daryn Colledge in 2006.
This year's change is at right tackle, where the Packers lost the veteran mainstay Bulaga in free agency. Wisconsin native and Badgers alum Rick Wagner (6-6, 315), who played seven years with the Ravens and Lions, was signed to step in and maintain the group's experienced, veteran presence on the edges.
In a year without any on-field offseason work and with a potentially shortened or eliminated preseason, it's hard to envision the starting five looking any different. It's as good a bet as any that, barring injury, the Packers will line up for Week 1 (left to right), with Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Linsley, Turner and Wagner.
From there, the unit possesses a wealth of reserve talent at the interior spots but questions about the depth on the outside.
The following is the fifth installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the offensive line.
Taylor and Lucas Patrick, who both entered the NFL undrafted, are veteran inside players who would create little angst if they're asked to fill in. Taylor (6-3, 324) has started 52 games in his career, including playoffs, all but three of them at left guard. Patrick (6-3, 313) has a total of six starts at the two guard spots and made two extended relief appearances at center for Linsley last season.
Beyond that, the Packers spent a trio of sixth-round draft picks on interior line prospects. Michigan's Jon Runyan Jr. was a two-time All-Big Ten tackle for the Wolverines, but the Packers are listing him as a guard and will try him there first. Oregon's Jake Hanson (6-4, 296) started 49 games at center for the Ducks over four years, and Indiana's Simon Stepaniak was a three-year starter at guard for the Hoosiers, though an ACL injury during bowl prep last winter puts his availability as a rookie in question.
Injury uncertainty lingers as well with guard Cole Madison, a 2018 fifth-round pick who took a year off from football, came back last season, but then hurt his knee in late November and was placed on injured reserve. One additional guard prospect is undrafted rookie Zack Johnson (6-6, 301), a two-time FCS All-American at North Dakota State, Turner's alma mater.
Depth at tackle is unproven and far less robust, though it comes with the caveat that Turner has a handful of starts at tackle in his career and Taylor could play there in a pinch as well.
Four returnees in Alex Light, Yosh Nijman, John Leglue and Cody Conway – all undrafted – will look to take the next step in their careers and solidify themselves on the depth chart.
Light (6-5, 309), who joined the Packers in 2018 from Richmond, came off the bench to fill in at both tackle spots in various games last year. Most of his relief work was for Bulaga on the right side, and he can also play guard.
The mammoth Nijman (6-7, 314), a rookie last year from Virginia Tech, spent the bulk of the season on the practice squad and then, shortly after being elevated to the active roster, went down with an injury.
Leglue (6-6, 301), a Tulane product, was signed off the Saints' practice squad last December but was never active on game day in Green Bay. Conway (6-6, 307), from Syracuse, also joined the Packers late in his rookie year and spent the last five weeks of the season, plus both playoff games, on the practice squad.
The newcomer to the tackle prospect pool is undrafted rookie Travis Bruffy (6-6, 298), who started 34 games at left tackle over the last three years for Texas Tech and was a second-team All-Big 12 pick last season.
Countdown to Camp series