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Despite departures, Packers feel O-line 'in a good space' for coming season

More youth likely coming to compete and rebuild depth

T Rasheed Walker, G/T Elgton Jenkins, former T/G Bryan Bulaga, DL Kenny Clark and former DE Mike Daniels.
T Rasheed Walker, G/T Elgton Jenkins, former T/G Bryan Bulaga, DL Kenny Clark and former DE Mike Daniels.

GREEN BAY – Talk of the trenches is likely filling the Packers Tailgate Tour bus this week.

Three of the six current/former players making the annual trek around Wisconsin are offensive linemen – Elgton Jenkins, Rasheed Walker and the retired Bryan Bulaga. At the same time, it's a position group generating a lot of discussion surrounding the Packers as the NFL Draft approaches.

While a boatload of experience and quality play departed over the past month in David Bakhtiari, Jon Runyan and Yosh Nijman, the Packers are still sitting pretty good. Walker at left tackle and Sean Rhyan at right guard got their share of playing time last year, while Jenkins, center Josh Myers and right tackle Zach Tom all return in 2024.

That starting five isn't set in stone by any means, but it's a foundation for the Packers to work with as they study top college prospects who could be targets for one or more of Green Bay's five draft picks in the first three rounds.

"I feel like we're headed where we want to go," said Jenkins before the tour bus left Lambeau Field, talking about the offensive line as a group. "There's a lot of work that we still can do. We've definitely got a cornerstone of guys who've played a lot of football, especially last year. So I feel like we're in a good space – really good."

That's thanks in large part to the development of Walker and Rhyan in their respective second seasons in 2023. Neither played as rookies but eventually earned job-sharing arrangements last season with the now-departed veterans Nijman and Runyan, and they held their own.

Walker in particular worked his way into the full-time role protecting QB Jordan Love's blind side, impressing with his progress despite uncertainty at times as to where exactly he stood.

"He definitely approached it the right way," Jenkins said of the quiet, hard-nosed Walker, a seventh-round draft pick from Penn State in 2022. "As we all know he grew a lot last year.

"I just feel like he matured so much. I'm excited for him moving forward. He's got a bright future ahead of him."

That said, it's almost expected the Packers will spend a high draft pick on another young lineman to compete with Walker for the starting job (or with Rhyan, or both). Whether or not any rookies will prove ready to start, restocking the unit's depth will be a priority regardless.

While Walker is taking nothing for granted, he's also not sweating the idea of continuing to fight for his job. He feels his growing pains are behind him and he's "ready to build."

"That's one thing about me, I'm always going to compete regardless of the odds against me or my side," Walker said. "That's why I'm really not worried. Just come compete."

He might be able to pick Bulaga's brain for some pointers on the bus rides this week. The former first-round draft pick out of Iowa in 2010 certainly knows about establishing oneself in the pros as a young player, as he wound up starting the bulk of his rookie season and in Super Bowl XLV.

"The expectations are there," Bulaga said. "If you're an offensive lineman and you're a young guy and you're starting, you're expected to hold your weight. Doesn't matter if you're a rookie, doesn't matter what year you are, you're expected to hold your weight and play well."

Bulaga's final season with the Packers in 2019 coincided with Jenkins' first, and he's not at all surprised Jenkins has become a two-time Pro Bowler and now the elder statesman and leader of the unit.

He called Jenkins "kind of a goofy dude" as a rookie who settled in as well as fit in with the other veteran linemen once he was starting regularly. Those transitions are always on the horizon, making Jenkins' leadership will become all the more important as the pending competitions heat up after the draft and the coaching staff searches for its best starting five.

"Everybody on the team, we're hungry," Walker said. "Everybody loves to win, loves football. I feel like that's gonna bring us where we need to be at."

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