GREEN BAY – Sean Rhyan admitted he wasn't given any warning.
"It was kind of, 'Oh, you're in,'" Rhyan recalled.
He was referring to Week 9 vs. the Rams, when he was inserted at right guard for one series, his first offensive action in 1½ NFL seasons.
Little did Rhyan know at the time, but that "little taste" as he called it – the initial cameo was six snaps at right guard, and then eight at left guard in mop-up time with the Packers closing out a comfortable win – would morph into a full-fledged job-sharing arrangement that has set up the 2022 third-round draft pick out of UCLA to possibly take over the starting job at right guard next season.
"I was fighting for that, early on in the year, that sixth man, so every week I was preparing as if stuff goes bad, (be) ready to just hop in," Rhyan said on locker clean-out day after the Packers' season ended.
"This was hugely important and I think I did alright."
He did well enough that by mid-December he was splitting snaps with veteran Jon Runyan almost equally. He credited the three-year starter for handling the rotation like the pro he is, and supporting him even though as a player it can be harder to get into the flow of the game and read the opponent when not playing every snap.
The added kicker is that with Runyan a pending free agent, Rhyan might be viewed as the starter in waiting. But there was never any animosity even though it was clearly a competition if not audition for the following season.
"It was the team, team first, whatever we can do to help the team go further and advance on, so be it," Rhyan said. "That's kind of how it is."
It's also a huge leap from where Rhyan was as a rookie, almost the forgotten member of the '22 draft class who played literally one snap on special teams all season. Buried on the offensive line depth chart, he wound up suspended for the final six games of the year for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Rhyan didn't know what that meant for Year 2, but he's grateful the organization didn't give up on him.
"It was tough, but I looked at it as, I think my character speaks and kind of helped me out because they know," he said. "I had a slip-up, something happened. But they know, they trust me, and obviously I came back this year and proved to them that my character was still intact and why they drafted me."
Rhyan acknowledged it was like digging himself out of a hole, mentally more than anything, in order to maximize on any opportunity that came his way.
Once it did arrive, he believed his biggest strides came in the way of consistency.
"He's a big, strong kid," offensive line coach Luke Butkus said in December when Rhyan's playing time was increasing. "He's tough, and he's got strong and heavy hands.
"Now we just have to put it together every single play. We've got to lock in, refocus and go out there and play the next play, not let whatever happened the play before affect us, good or bad."
Rhyan felt he accomplished that by finding a balance between being highly self-critical but not "overthinking" in the heat of the action. He focused on the mental work during film study and practice, and the cut it loose in game action so the physical gifts of his 6-5, 321-pound frame would show.
"He's a big guy, he's very physical and he's learning the game," linemate and fellow guard Elgton Jenkins said. "It was good for him to get that experience moving forward to compete for a starting position. He definitely made a good run down the stretch."
He passed the prove-it test, though Rhyan shies away from declaring he proved anything, preferring to say his play was more "reassuring" to both himself and the front office that drafted him. He was chosen with a top 100 pick (No. 92 overall) for a reason and would like to think he's just starting to show why.
For the offense as a whole, it didn't seem to matter production-wise whether Runyan or Rhyan was manning right guard. Both played well and were on the field contributing to numerous scoring drives over the offense's late hot stretch.
Despite the disappointing ending, the unit is looking forward to what lies ahead, a future that very well could include Rhyan as a mainstay up front.
"Everyone saw it – we were grooving, moving, having a good time out there, so next year is gonna be real exciting," he said. "I think everyone's kinda interested in what the Green Bay Packers are gonna be like next year, and all I can say is get ready."