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Packers' offensive line tempered for strength after season of adversity

Key injuries led to major opportunities for young group in 2021

Packers T Yosh Nijman
Packers T Yosh Nijman

GREEN BAY – The Packers' offensive line undoubtedly will have a new look to it in 2022.

Right tackle Billy Turner is now in Denver, versatile stalwart Lucas Patrick has relocated to Chicago and Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins is on the road to recovery after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament this past November.

A change also occurred at the front of the position's classroom with Luke Butkus replacing Adam Stenavich, who was promoted to offensive coordinator after Denver hired Nathaniel Hackett as its new head coach.

Despite the losses, the Packers remain bullish about the O-line's future. It starts with left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is on track to return in 2022 after missing most of last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

A starter of 119 regular-season games over his nine-year NFL career, Bakhtiari returned for a 27-snap outing against Detroit in Green Bay's regular-season finale but was a scratch in the team's NFC Divisional playoff game against San Francisco.

When asked about Bakhtiari's prognosis at last week's NFL Annual Meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., General Manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters the team had no long-term concerns.

"We knew going into the season that it was going to be a little bit touch-and-go, and not really sure when he was going to be able to get back," Gutekunst said. "I thought he came into the second-to-last game and had some really quality snaps, and we thought we might be over the hump. Then had a little bit of a setback there. But feel really good about where he's at right now."

Beyond Bakhtiari, the Packers likely will have a young but talented O-line blocking for four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Bakhtiari not only is the lone lineman older than 26 currently on the roster but his nine NFL seasons also are almost as much as the rest of the room combined at the moment.

However, Green Bay appears to have a found a long-term answer at center in 2021 second-round pick Josh Myers. A significant knee injury caused the 6-foot-5, 310-pound rookie to miss 11 games, but Myers was able to showcase the power, athleticism and football aptitude that made him one of the first centers off the board in last year's NFL Draft.

"Big, strong, tough – what else can you look for in an offensive lineman?" said Butkus of Myers at the Pro Bowl earlier this year. "He hasn't even begun to scratch the surface yet."

A litany of injuries to the starting five created opportunity for the rest of the room. Former sixth-round pick Jon Runyan made 17 starts at left guard while rookie fourth-round pick Royce Newman led the entire offense with 1,094 snaps at right guard.

When Jenkins went down with injuries, the Packers' long-term investment into former undrafted free agent Yosh Nijman turned into a hidden gem at left tackle. The 6-foot-7, 314-pound tackle didn't just hold his own – he won several battles against some the league's top pass rushers.

In eight spot starts, the soft-spoken Nijman earned the respect of the entire roster with both his play and personality. While Bakhtiari is back at left tackle, Nijman could factor into the open competition on the right side later this summer.

"You've got to give him a lot of credit through the last three years just his work ethic and his consistency working," Gutekunst said last week. "I think he just needed an opportunity. It's probably as much my fault as anybody, we kept bringing in veteran guys to shore up that third tackle spot, which never really gave him the opportunity. Once he got the opportunity, he certainly performed exceptionally well."

The ace in the hole for Green Bay remains Jenkins. While it's uncertain when he'll be back in the lineup, the former Pro Bowler can plug in anywhere after playing all five positions on the offensive line during his first three NFL seasons.

Jenkins' versatility has been a shining example of Green Bay's ability to not only develop prospects but also adapt to injuries, which has played a significant role in the offense's success.

With 11 draft picks at their disposal in this year's NFL Draft, the Packers are excited to potentially add even more versatility and depth to an already competitive room.

"These guys set a standard here a long time ago and we're just try to live up to that standard and even raise the standard," Butkus said. "When things happen and injuries are part of this game, it's next man up. That's the way it is here."

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