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Left tackle just the latest challenge for Elgton Jenkins

Third-year lineman will start at his fourth position up front dating back to last year’s opener

G Elgton Jenkins
G Elgton Jenkins

GREEN BAY – Elgton Jenkins made the decision on a whim, and little did he know where it would lead.

Last season in Week 9 at San Francisco, the Packers were without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari. Then his substitute, Rick Wagner, went down with an injury late in the second quarter.

So the coaching staff came to the versatile Jenkins at halftime with a choice. Did he want to move from his customary left guard position to right tackle, where he started the opener at Minnesota while Billy Turner was out? If he did that, Turner could flip over from right tackle to left tackle.

Or did he want to just slide over one spot to left tackle, leaving Turner on the right side?

The do-everything lineman chose left tackle for no other reason than feeling he "might as well get that under my belt, too," and he held up fine through the second half of a blowout win.

Fast forward 10 months and those two quarters at left tackle now stand as a precursor to Jenkins' job for perhaps as long as the first half of the 2021 season.

As Bakhtiari continues to rehab from late-season ACL surgery, he's beginning the year on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), meaning he's out a minimum of the first six weeks, plus however much practice time he needs to return to a game.

Jenkins has been lining up at left tackle with the No. 1 offensive line since the spring to prepare for this extended duty, and it speaks to both his skills and steadiness that no one associated with the Packers' offense is overly concerned quarterback Aaron Rodgers' five-time All-Pro blindside protector won't play for a while.

Elgton's got this.

"I love it," Jenkins said, following Monday's practice, of his teammates' reaction to the situation. "It's a challenge to me, going out there and playing at the same standard as 'Bakh' did.

"I love it they have the confidence in me, and I have the confidence in myself to go out there and just keep the ball rolling, and hold it down until (number) 69 gets back."

A second-round draft pick in 2019 out of Mississippi State, Jenkins moved from his college position of center to guard and became a starter in Week 3 of his rookie season.

He's started every game since, with left tackle in this week's opener against New Orleans marking his fourth position as a starter since last year's opener. In addition to the 2020 Week 1 start at right tackle and a majority of starts at left guard, he also started three games at center when Corey Linsley was hurt.

Jenkins earned a Pro Bowl selection at guard last year, becoming just the third offensive lineman in team history to do so in his second season, and the first one in 68 years. But it's his ability to perform well anywhere he's asked to play that's making him so indispensable to Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense.

"It is nice having a guy we feel can play five spots on the offensive line at a very high level," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said. "That's pretty rare in this league, and Elgton's proven, I think, he can do that.

"This is going to be a new challenge for him, as well, to take on just what he's taking on. But we're confident he can do it."

LaFleur hasn't announced his revamped offensive line for Sunday's opener, but all signs point to two rookie draft picks – second-rounder Josh Myers at center and fourth-rounder Royce Newman at guard – starting up front.

As someone who had to step in and start early as a rookie, Jenkins has simply told his younger linemates to play fast, with no hesitation or second-guessing.

That's pretty much the same thing Bakhtiari has told Jenkins with this latest challenge on the horizon, to just play his game and "make sure the main thing is the main thing."

That's protecting Rodgers, of course, and keeping the offense balanced with a strong ground game. The linemen frequently refer to the standard they have for their position group, and that's it, no matter who's playing where.

As much as he's moved around, Jenkins embodies that standard, and if anyone can elevate it – by helping the offense not miss a beat despite Bakhtiari's absence – perhaps he can.

"When you're blocking for a Hall of Fame quarterback like Aaron, it's always a high responsibility for all five guys on the line," Jenkins said. "We take pride in blocking for him and making sure he stays up, stays clean, just going in there and getting the job done."

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