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Packers reaping return on investment in Yosh Nijman

Former undrafted offensive tackle keeps “getting better and better”

T Yosh Nijman
T Yosh Nijman

GREEN BAY – For years in Green Bay, the opening reps of the one-on-one period between the offensive line and defensive front have often set the tone for the drill.

It's where David Bakhtiari once battled Clay Matthews and Kenny Clark first locked horns with Corey Linsley for a couple snaps, before giving way to other young linemen looking to hone their skills and possibly catch the eye of the coaching staff.

Yosh Nijman has seen both sides. Once an undrafted free agent trying to make the 53, the 6-foot-7, 314-pound tackle has now graduated to the opening act responsible for stymieing the top edge-rushing tandem of Rashan Gary and Preston Smith in the one-on-one period.

And Nijman hasn't backed down.

In fact, on Monday, the third-year veteran showed just how far he's come with two competitive reps against Gary, the surging 23-year-old who's been one of the top performers in camp.

"He's been getting better and better, year by year," Gary said. "Getting stronger, understanding different leverages, different looks that I'm giving him. I told him (Monday), 'You're getting a lot better with your hands.'"

Both NFL entrants in 2019, Gary and Nijman have seen quite a bit of one another in practice over the years despite the fact they came to Green Bay under totally different circumstances.

Gary was the first of the Packers' two first-round picks (12th overall) that year, whereas Nijman was one of 11 college free agents the Packers signed following the conclusion of the draft.

After a rookie season spent on Green Bay's practice squad, Nijman made the Packers' 53-man roster in 2020 but saw just 95 snaps (14 offense, 81 special teams) in 16 regular-season appearances.

It wasn't until Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins both were sidelined last year that Nijman's number was called in earnest. The 26-year-old proved to be a reliable force at left tackle in eight regular-season starts, earning praise from quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his dedication, poise and ability.

"I was just waiting for an opportunity," Nijman said. "Like anything in life, you work, and you wait for your opportunity. When you get your opportunity, all the work that you've been doing – all the hard work – you put that to the test alongside of the confidence that you have in your work that you've been putting in."

Beyond just Nijman's size, the Packers' personnel department saw a lot of natural ability and athleticism in the former Virigina Tech tackle when they signed him in 2019.

It was just a matter of offensive line coaches Adam Stenavich and Luke Butkus sharpening Nijman's fundamentals and allowing the young man's work ethic to take it from there.

After being tossed in the fire last year by Stenavich, Nijman soared as the emergency option at left tackle. Although a loaded Green Bay defensive front has presented unique challenges to the offensive line this summer, Nijman has answered the bell.

"You've got to give him a lot of credit because he has busted his tail to get where he's at right now," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said. "When you walk out there, you can watch a guy that big that moves like he does and you're going to be intrigued.

"I'm excited for him. He's really worked his way into a guy who's going to have a long career."

It's been Nijman's most active training camp to date, alternating between the two tackle positions with the No. 1 offense as the Packers look to construct their starting five on the offensive line for the 2022 season.

Coincidentally, with Bakhtiari and former Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins rehabbing from significant knee injuries, Nijman has been the most experienced offensive lineman on the practice field, both in terms of age (26) and games played (33).

"I feel like with him, it was slowing down the mental game," said Jenkins, a second-round pick in 2019. "Now being here for (three) years, knowing the offense, knowing things like that, I feel like he'll only get better than from where he's at right now."

While the Packers hope to have Bakhtiari and Jenkins back in the not-so-distant future, Nijman is only focused on finding his groove and parlaying the more 800 offensive snaps he's now played into becoming a full-fledged starter somewhere.

And wherever the Packers need him, Nijman will be ready.

"It's becoming a little bit of muscle memory in the sense of playing games and what to do, how to prepare for it," Nijman said. "It definitely is going to give me confidence going into this year."

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