GREEN BAY – It had been 301 days since Elgton Jenkins last played in an NFL game when the Packers' offensive lineman returned to the huddle last Sunday against Chicago.
Nine months earlier, the former Pro Bowler underwent surgery to fix the torn anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered against the Minnesota Vikings last November at U.S. Bank Stadium.
If coming back from a significant knee injury wasn't difficult enough, Jenkins also was making only his second career NFL start at right tackle.
His only previous start came in the 2020 regular-season opener against the Vikings but that lasted only 27 snaps after Jenkins had to slide to left guard when Lane Taylor tore his biceps.
After the Packers' 27-10 win over Chicago, Jenkins was critical of his own performance. The 6-foot-5, 311-pound offensive lineman sets a high standard for himself and felt he came in beneath that.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw things much differently and couldn't have been more complimentary of Jenkins in the post-game media auditorium.
"He's been out for a long time, and he's battled in practice, and he's battled in his rehab, and he went out there and played an NFL football game. That to me is a successful night," said Rodgers after the game. "I couldn't be prouder of Elgton Jenkins."
After Thursday's practice at Hinkle Field, Jenkins still lamented the two sacks that he feels he allowed against Chicago but has started to see the positives in his comeback performance.
While Jenkins injured his knee against Minnesota on Nov. 22, 2021, he didn't undergo surgery until almost a month later. Post-op, Jenkins barely could lift his leg more than a few inches.
Jenkins stayed in Green Bay all offseason for his rehab and cleared one of his biggest hurdles when started running again on an anti-gravity treadmill between February and March.
The 26-year-old progressed to the point that by mid-August he was cleared to practice again. Jenkins had plenty of family and friends in attendance at Lambeau Field on Sunday when he made his highly anticipated return.
"After the game, I soaked it in," Jenkins said. "I always wanted to be out there and competing. Just being the long journey that I've been on, it was good for me."
Before the injury, the 2019 second-round draft pick was off to one of the most impressive starts for an offensive lineman in team history. In 2020, Jenkins became just the third Packers O-lineman to be named to the Pro Bowl within his first two seasons in the NFL, joining Derel Teteak (1952) and Charley Brock (1940).
That same year, Jenkins also earned the distinction of being the first Green Bay offensive lineman to start games at guard, center and tackle in the same season since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
To date, Jenkins has started at four different positions on the offensive line in 39 NFL starts – 26 at left guard, eight at left tackle, three at center and now two at right tackle.
Jenkins played all 68 offensive snaps against the Bears. There were some technique issues he wanted to clean up this week in practice, but there also were positives. In addition to a couple pancakes, Jenkins helped pave the way to a 200-yard day for Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon and the Packers' rushing offense.
"He brings the intensity up of everybody around him. You could see that extra juice that we had," said offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich, who was Jenkins' position coach for the past three years. "He was a little rusty. I think every week he's going to get a little bit better. He's had a good week of practice so far, but it was great to have him back."
The Packers hope Jenkins' return is a harbinger of good things to come for the offensive line. Left tackle David Bakhtiari practiced Thursday, while left guard Jon Runyan didn't miss any time after clearing the concussion protocol last week.
For now, it appears right tackle will be Jenkins' home but he's always ready and willing to play wherever the Packers need him. While appreciative of his quarterback's vocal support, Jenkins still has no plans to grade his play on a curve.
This Sunday in Tampa Bay, Jenkins expects to be his same Pro Bowl self against the Buccaneers.
"Just being able to get (the Bears game) under my belt was good for me," Jenkins said. "The game coming up, I feel like I should play at a high standard. Every game, my objective is to play at a high standard."