Repeat of last season will be no easy task for Jon Runyan

Packers’ starting left guard didn’t commit a penalty in 2021

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G Jon Runyan

GREEN BAY – Packers offensive lineman Jon Runyan didn't even know about his penalty-free feat in 2021 until his dad read about it and mentioned it to him in the offseason.

That dad, of course, is Jon Runyan Sr., who played 14 seasons as an offensive lineman in the NFL and, despite the elder Runyan's reputation as an aggressive, push-the-envelope player, enjoyed his own flagless season once, in 2007 with the Eagles.

"I had no idea," said the younger Runyan of what he achieved after starting every game for the Packers last season except Week 1. "I wasn't really thinking of that no-penalty thing. I guess it's a pretty cool stat."

It sure is. The 6-4, 307-pound Runyan, in just his second season after arriving in Green Bay as a sixth-round pick from Michigan in 2020, was one of only four offensive linemen in the league who took more than 800 snaps to go the entire regular season without a flag.

It's all the more remarkable considering he didn't make his first career start until Week 2 last year, having come off the bench for some extended substitution stints as a rookie. But once he cracked the starting lineup at left guard, he provided no reason to be pulled, chief among them his reliable fundamentals that helped avoid flags.

That said, he doesn't talk too high and mighty about it, because some good fortune was involved, too.

"It wasn't something I really thought about," Runyan said. "I was just trying to play ball. There definitely were some questionable times I could have gotten called for the flag. Sometimes it's just luck that breaks your way."

He recounted an instance in Week 5 at Cincinnati when, on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, his infraction actually turned into a penalty on Bengals defensive lineman D.J. Reader on an inside zone run by AJ Dillon.

"The guy beat me inside, and I held him," Runyan admitted. "He threw me off but then at the last second he stuck his leg out and tripped (Dillon) up the middle. It was definitely a flag on me, but they saw the tripping and that kind of overruled it and they threw the flag on him. That was probably my closest call.

"I lucked out on that one."

To be fair, he also was officially named as a penalty culprit in the playoff loss to the 49ers, but because postseason stats are kept separately, his regular season is clean. Besides, on the ineligible man downfield in the fourth quarter on a busted screen play, the officials "could have called that on three people," Runyan joked. "We had a few guys downfield on that one."

Be that as it may, Runyan's discipline was no small thing in his first full season dealing with quarterback Aaron Rodgers' cadences, which he often uses to try to draw defenders offside, or at a minimum keep them on their heels.

It isn't easy as one of his offensive linemen to not jump on occasion, but Runyan – who has flinched a couple of times in training camp this summer – got through 16 starts plus the playoff game without a hitch there, either.

"We always try to say that the cadence is our weapon," he said. "We have so many and use so many, and it helps us get a jump off the ball, keep the defense guessing, not letting them tee off on us.

"With our silent cadence (on the road), Aaron … just the way he does it, it's very complicated, but once you get it, you're able to use it. We all love it. It's very unique for sure. It's not like one I've ever learned. We have a bunch of different silent cadences too, and we use them all."

Thus far in training camp, with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins sidelined, Runyan has been one of two constants on the No. 1 offensive line. He along with second-year center Josh Myers regularly line up with the top unit as the Packers rotate different starters at right/left tackle and right guard.

Adjusting to changes alongside him is nothing new for Runyan, who played next to four different left tackles (Jenkins, Yosh Nijman, Bakhtiari, Billy Turner) and two different centers (Myers, Lucas Patrick) last season. He believes communication, particularly in practice, helps develop trust and chemistry in short order, and that's how all the guys up front have made it work.

Runyan's depth-chart status this summer is notable, though, because training camp last year was not his best showing. In a competition that lasted all preseason, he was beaten out for the starting guard jobs by Patrick and rookie Royce Newman.

But he got the call to start Week 2 in primetime versus the Lions due to a concussion for Patrick, and he never let go of the job. He expressed gratitude to the coaching staff, knowing his struggles in training camp didn't fully reflect his game, for still trusting him in that spot and letting him earn his stripes.

"Going out there, first start, Monday Night Football against an NFC North rival … having Michael Brockers line up across from me, a really good, talented veteran, it was a little intimidating," Runyan said. "But I think I handled myself pretty well.

"I knew this was an opportunity that comes not very often. This could be my last start, this could be the first of many, so you have to go out there and grab it."

Runyan did, and continued to do so through January. Seven months later, he still looks to be the Packers' starting left guard when the 2022 season opens.

With a solid, full year under his belt, Runyan feels he's in a better place mentally and physically than last summer. He believes his conditioning has improved and he's able to focus on now's little details as well as the future's big picture – which he hopes will be a long career like his namesake's, penalty-free or not.

"My dad, he played 14 seasons, but 12 of them he played 16 straight games," Runyan said. "I started 16 games last year, and hopefully I'll be able to try to compete with him and keep that streak going."

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