Matchup with Eagles a 'little extra special' for Packers' Jon Runyan

Rookie guard’s first NFL start could come against his father’s former team

G Jon Runyan

GREEN BAY – Having grown up inside the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room, it's only fitting Jon Runyan's first NFL start may come this Sunday against his childhood team.

As the son of the former Pro Bowl right tackle and beloved Eagle who carries the same name, Runyan has deep roots in the Philadelphia area. He followed his dad to practice, knew the name of practically every player on the Eagles’ roster and played high school football at St. Joseph's Prep in North Philly.

And now, it's brought the younger Runyan to this point – a rookie offensive lineman who has performed admirably for the Packers in spot duty this season.

A bulk of his of 156 offensive snaps have come the past two weeks, having been pressed into action at left guard due to the domino effect of Elgton Jenkins filling in for injured center Corey Linsley, who exited with a knee injury in Sunday's 41-25 win over Chicago and hasn't practiced yet this week.

A sixth-round pick out of Michigan this past April, Runyan was keenly aware his childhood team would be traveling to Lambeau Field in Week 13. What he couldn't have predicted is the fact he likely will start his first NFL game against his dad's former team.

"It's one of those games that I'm excited to get the opportunity to play in," Runyan said. "It's a team that I always watched ever since I was like 3 years old and pretty much all the way up until last year. … Now, I'm over here and I gotta handle my business and everybody knows where my allegiance stands.

"It's just like every other game but it's a little extra special I'm playing against a team I grew up watching."

The Packers' offensive line has drawn praise this year for not only how well it's protected quarterback Aaron Rodgers – he's on pace to be sacked a career-low 16 times this year – but also how malleable it's been when injuries have hit.

Starting right guard Lane Taylor was lost for the season due to a knee injury in Week 1, which resulted in Runyan seeing his first offensive snaps in the Packers' opener against Minnesota.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari missed three games with a rib injury, right tackle Billy Turner sat out early in the year with a knee and Linsley could very well see his streak of 68 consecutive regular-season starts come to an end this Sunday against Philadelphia.

However the offensive line has shifted to compensate for anyone it's missing, the end result often has been Runyan subbing in at one of the two guard positions.

If there are two definitive traits father passed down to son, it's steadiness and professionalism. After Sunday's 41-25 win over Chicago, quarterback Aaron Rodgers referred to Runyan as "Mr. Reliable" for how he's performed in a pinch this season.

"You need the depth in this league, you see it every year," said Rodgers on Wednesday. "It's hard to have all 16 games with your starting five so I'm really proud of Jon.

"I'm not surprised. Obviously, he's got the pedigree. His dad played a long time and was a great player in the league, but Jon has a good mindset when he's out there."

Although Runyan takes his cues from position coach Adam Stenavich, his dad has chimed in with a few helpful tips here and there.

As the NFL vice president of the policy and rules administration, the elder Runyan typically has his hands full with league matters during the season. He still finds time, though, to watch his Jon Jr.'s film and send encouraging text messages before and after his son's games.

While Runyan is proving there's more to his game than his last name, there was one eye-opening moment last month when Runyan crossed paths with quarterback Tom Brady after the Packers played in Tampa Bay. Brady, now in his 21st NFL season, actually was teammates with Jon Sr. at Michigan.

Runyan had met Brady a few times, including once when the future Hall of Famer was on hand to watch Michigan play Colorado in 2016, so he figured he'd say hello.

"I didn't think that he'd recognize my face but after I introduced who I was, he was pretty excited to see me," Runyan said. "He told me to tell my father hello, give him his regards and hope my family's doing all right. It was a pretty cool moment that I didn't expect for it to blow up. I just wanted to say hi to Tom because he's my dad's friend."

On the field, Runyan has made a seamless transition from being an All-Big Ten left tackle to playing in the interior despite not having a physical offseason program, and then a truncated training camp.

Runyan credits his fellow linemen for making it easy on him, but Stenavich also cites his preparation and work ethic as reasons his rookie lineman has been able to quickly get up to speed. The reputation gives the Packers the utmost confidence in Runyan regardless of the circumstances or game situation.

"I think you find out a lot about guys when you get in the heat of a battle," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Do they give the deer-in-headlights look or do they just not flinch and not blink and just go about their business? That's what he's been able to do.

"Certainly he's been around the game for a really long time with his dad, but he's just able to transfer what he does in practice onto the game field."

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