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Packers emphasized chemistry in midst of O-line shakeup

Rookie Zach Tom stepped up during spot start at left tackle

Offensive line
Offensive line

GREEN BAY – The Packers had familiarity in mind when they redesigned their offensive line heading into Sunday's game against the Washington Commanders.

The original idea was for tackle Yosh Nijman and guard Jon Runyan to flip from the left side to the right, while the team reunited David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, who each enjoyed Pro Bowl seasons when last paired together on the left side in 2020.

Of course, even best-laid plans sometimes require adjustments. After Bakhtiari became a late scratch, the Packers chose to plug in rookie Zach Tom at left tackle in order to keep the rest of the offensive line intact.

Green Bay's offense had its struggles in a 23-21 defeat, but the O-line performed admirably given the circumstances. Emphasizing a quick passing game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was not sacked and was hit just once.

"Going against a pretty good front, I thought they played pretty well," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "It wasn't flawless by any stretch, but for the most part did pretty good.

"There were a couple plays where we had some miscommunication where we should have got a little bit more in the run game that kind of set us back. But I thought for the most part it was pretty decent."

The Packers knew it was a possibility they'd be without Bakhtiari after the All-Pro left tackle "wasn't feeling right" on Saturday. Bakhtiari did a pregame workout at FedExField on Sunday morning before officially being ruled out.

Tom pulled a tough draw for his first NFL start in the form of former first-round pick Montez Sweat but credited Jenkins and tight end Marcedes Lewis for helping him settle into the game.

LaFleur said the team planned to chip Sweat regardless of Bakhtiari's availability, and after occasionally repping at left tackle in training camp and in-season practices, Tom looked in his element at FedExField.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 6-foot-4, 304-pound offensive lineman didn't allow a single pressure on 35 pass sets. After reviewing the film, LaFleur commended the rookie fourth-round pick on Monday for how he handled the emergency start.

"I think I did all right," Tom said. "I think there's still some things that I need to get better at – using my hands, that's going to be something I continue to harp on."

Sunday was a transition for the veterans on the reshuffled O-line, too. For Jenkins, it was his first time playing left guard since the 2020 NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay.

While Nijman and Runyan started 10 games together on the left side over the past year, Sunday represented their first NFL starts at right tackle and right guard, respectively.

Runyan gained a little in-game experience at right guard during his rookie year, playing 23 snaps in two relief appearances in 2020. Other than that, however, the 6-foot-4, 307-pound offensive lineman had made 22 consecutive starts at left guard (including playoffs) prior to Sunday.

Runyan said he felt some hesitation flipping sides at first but the week of preparation and uniformity of playing between Nijman and center Josh Myers helped him ease into the new spot.

"I've always felt so comfortable over there on the left side, but I knew it was better for the team," said Runyan, recognizing Jenkins' Pro Bowl background at left guard. "I went out there Sunday and everything felt pretty good, pretty natural. There was a big adjustment period but I'm glad everything got ironed out before the game on Sunday."

It's uncertain what Bakhtiari's practice availability will look like this week. Whenever Bakhtiari is back, LaFleur said the team will again emphasize "balancing the workload" to give the 10th-year veteran the best chance to play.

The first seven games of the 2022 season have been a grind for the Packers' offensive line, which has utilized four different starting-five combinations so far. As Green Bay looks to end a three-game losing streak this Sunday in Buffalo, Runyan feels like the offense isn't far away from figuring itself out.

As always, it starts up front.

"It's just little stuff here and there that we're so close and it's one step here, some misreads, misidentification of the defensive front that's putting us behind," Runyan said.

"We're going to get it ironed out and everything's going to start coming together, too, and we can really start feeling that. I really like how this front, how we configured up in this game against Washington, and having David back will be a tremendous help, too."

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