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Playing multiple spots, Royce Newman toughened up his game

Packers’ fourth-round pick on the offensive line found his physicality at guard

T/G Royce Newman
T/G Royce Newman

GREEN BAY – Indications are Royce Newman will be getting his first look with the Packers at tackle, but his year as a starting guard at Ole Miss might've been the best thing for him.

That's how Jack Bicknell Jr. sees it anyway. Bicknell was Newman's position coach with the Rebels for three years (2017-19), a run that concluded with Newman starting every game at left guard.

Bicknell had an idea since meeting Newman as a redshirt freshman – given the size and athletic ability he possessed – that his best long-term position would be tackle, and that he was a legitimate NFL prospect.

When Bicknell saw Newman handle the grunt work at guard so successfully, he knew for sure.

"The last year I was there pretty much cemented it for me," Bicknell said in a phone interview with "It's a little bit more physical in there at guard and (you have to) play with a little better pad level. I think it really helped him.

"That's a tough league as we all know," Bicknell continued, referring to the NFL. "You have to be able to play physically, and I believe that's where he really improved the last couple years he played in college. I was really disappointed I couldn't coach him for his last year."

The changeover of the coaching staff at Ole Miss in 2020 prevented that. Newman wound up back at tackle, where he'd played as a reserve in his early college days, for his final season.

Bicknell said that move was coming anyway, and the Packers' eventual fourth-round pick helped his draft status by proving he could play both positions in the highly touted Southeastern Conference. Versatility isn't just a buzzword, it's extremely valuable in the NFL when only eight offensive linemen are dressing on game day.

According to Ole Miss stats, Newman allowed just one sack in 416 pass-blocking snaps at guard in 2019, and then just two sacks in 430 pass-blocking snaps at tackle in 2020.

"It's a body of work they're looking for," said Bicknell, who's now at Louisville but previously served as an offensive line coach in the NFL with four different clubs from 2009-14. "He was pretty consistent throughout, and I think of him that way, as a consistent guy.

"You know what you're going to get, and he's going to show up every day and do his job. That's also critical for an NFL team."

Over three years with Newman, Bicknell saw a natural athlete, who had played tight end, receiver and defensive end in high school in addition to offensive line, grow into his body and keep getting bigger.

Now 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, Newman certainly looks the part of an NFL lineman, even as the long, flowing hair he hasn't cut for two years has garnered the most attention of his physical characteristics.

At the Packers' rookie minicamp last week, Newman said his biggest early challenge is learning the playbook and all its complexities at the pro level.

"It's way more of a mental game than physical so far," he said. "Just learning the plays, learning how the schemes work and dealing with defensive IDs and fronts. You do a little bit of that in college, but the NFL is just a whole other level."

Take an inside look at the first day of Packers rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14.

Bicknell believes he'll make it through that transition with the same steady work ethic and positive attitude he remembers from a few years ago.

"That's just like if he was a true freshman trying to adjust in college," Bicknell said. "I was in the league for seven years and that was always a big adjustment for college players coming in, just how much terminology they had to know. You might have three different terms for one play. But he'll do fine with that."

Depending on All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari's timeline to return from his ACL injury and how the Packers might shuffle around veterans Billy Turner and Elgton Jenkins in his absence, there could be reps at right tackle with the No. 1 offensive line for Newman to earn when training camp rolls around.

That'll play out in time, but one thing Newman proved in college is he'll do what it takes, especially that year he battled in the trenches at guard.

"It was a pleasure to coach him, I can tell you that," Bicknell said. "I'm really happy for him. Having been in the league, I kind of know what's there, and I think he's got a chance to have a really good career. I'm hopeful anyways.

"The biggest adjustment is just the grind of it all. Everything is happy and fun in the spring, but man, when you get into that season, it's a grind. So he'll have to adjust to that, but I think he'll do that and have a great career."

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