Talented But Unfamiliar Offensive Line Could Hurt Packers Early

The Packers have a ton of talent in their offensive line room, but will be forced to start with unfamiliar combinations... and that's bad news considering who they play early.

David Bakhtiari may not start week 1, but will almost certainly be back at some point this season to continue his reign as the NFL's best offensive lineman.

Elgton Jenkins is a rising star with the rare ability to play all five positions and seems certain to reach All Pro status in the near future.

Josh Myers has been drawing rave reviews all through camp as the new starting center.

Fellow rookie Royce Newman has been PFF's highest-rated offensive lineman in the preseason.

Jon Ruyan Jr looked like a future starter in his fill-in duty last year, Billy Turner has been a solid, versatile player in his time with Green Bay, and newcomer Dennis Kelly brings another steady veteran presence.

Plus Ben Braden, Lucas Patrick, Jake Hanson, and Yosh Nijman are in a tight battle for the final depth positions on offensive line.

This is looking like the deepest, most talented group of offensive lineman the Packers have had in a long time.

But offensive line, more than any other position group in sports, needs to function as a single unit.  All players have adjustments to make as a play unfolds, but none are as complexly intertwined as offensive line, where success depends on continuity and familiarity just as much as talent.

That is where the Packers are sorely lacking.

Without Bakhtiari (who seems unlikely to play week 1), the Packers only have two players (Jenkins and Turner) who have spent time as the preferred starter for Green Bay and they've each been with the team only two years. Both of them have also had to move around and play different positions as injuries dictated.

When the Packers start the season, they will have different players at left tackle, center, and right tackle than they started with last year. Odds are high that at least one of their guards will have to move to a tackle position, too.

None of these guys will have any experience playing with the guys next to them. Maybe only one will have even regularly played in their position as a Packer.

That kind of unfamiliarity can lead to missed assignments and free rushers.

Aaron Rodgers is smart enough to recognize rushes, but he's no spring chicken. He can't scramble quite like he used to and his injury history is becoming more concerning as he ages.

The concern only grows when we look at the Packers early opponents.

In week 1, the Packers play the Saints, who ranked 3rd in the league last year with a 12% quarterback knockdown rate, despite only blitzing a little over 31% of the time (right around the middle of the league). A defense that can get to the passer without a lot of blitzing is always hard to handle, but even moreso when the line is made up of unfamiliar players. 

After that, they face the Lions, who weren't impressive last year, but added defensive talent and have promised to be aggressive under new head coach Dan Campbell. An aggressive bunch of young defenders can be trouble for a line that is still learning to play together. 

Then the Packers face the 49ers who, when healthy, have one of the the most dominant defensive fronts in the league, as the Packers have seen in the past.

In week 4, it's the Steelers, who led the league in quarterback knockdown rate, pressure rate, and sacks last year. A perennially great defense, they look primed to be near the top of all those rankings again this year.

Without any sort of offensive line continuity, the Packers will have to contend with some very tough defensive matchups early and that could have an impact later in the season.

With only one bye in the conference (thanks to the league's terrible decision to add an extra playoff team last year), the all-important #1 seed will likely come down to a single game, like it has the last 4 years.

If the Packers have a slow start, they could miss out on the bye and the chance to host another NFCCG at home.

Continuity is a huge part of success on an offensive line and the Packers will not have it to start the season.

It'll be up to Matt LaFleur to adjust his offense and it'll be up to the players to find a way to rise to the occasion if the Packers want to get off to a hot start.

 

Bruce Irons has played, coached, and studied football for decades. Best-selling author of books such as A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Draft, A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Salary Cap, and A Fan's Guide To NFL Free Agency Hits And Misses, Bruce contributes to CheeseHeadTV and PackersForTheWin.com.

Follow Bruce Irons on Twitter at @BruceIronsNFL.

 

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5 points

Comments (56)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

August 29, 2021 at 11:15 am

Jenkins, Patrick, Meyers, Newman and Turner will start and that’s clearly been our best middle 3. Nijman has been a novice playing LT and now RT too and consistently highly rated. Runyon is the 3rd G. Braden the 4th G and 4th T. Until Bakh comes back that’s pretty settled. It looks very likely that Patrick is the back up C and possibly Runyon behind him. All pretty settled and proven. Hanson may make the PS but it’s not a given. Kelly may not make the roster and Van Lanen is PS at best. Not much doubt or controversy.

Will there be rookie mistakes, probably, but better ability also results in more wins and snaps improve that scenario fairly rapidly. Bakh had growing pains but was a step up nevertheless. Newman will be too.

Worry about ILB where there’s a good argument that McDuffie, Wilborn and Harris are all better than either Summers or, particularly, Burks. You could also worry about OLB, where Garvin is hardly a clear producer and Z is questionable. I’d focus on deep S too. None of our safeties can back up deep, can we find a DB who can in Yiadom (who is a cut as a corner) or Denmark. Both tackle well.

5 points
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Packers1985's picture

August 29, 2021 at 11:34 am

We can say the same about our secondary too...I am not 100% sold with our secondary.
The most worrying thing for me is the connection between Myers and Rodgers...
This year's schedule seems to be the toughest we have had faced in the recent years. Hoping the team prove me wrong from the get go and start gelling like a champion ship team..

Go Pack Go

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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2021 at 11:32 am

I agree with Bruce, and Coldworld. This is an inexperienced line and it should be expected that there’s going to be mistakes.

If it were me , I’d lean on the run, because mistakes in run blocking don’t usually count as much as mistakes in pass blocking. And it actually looks like we could have the best ground game we’ve had in almost 20 years, with some home run ability. I’d use it and find out what we’ve got. If we can run against the Saints, that’s a real good sign.

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murf7777's picture

August 29, 2021 at 01:12 pm

LH, good comment about leaning on the run. I suspect Mlf wlll do just that. Will Rodgers acquiesce? I can't remember the last time I've been so excited for our running and short passing game. We have a lot of guys who can break tackles and make defenders miss. This will be an interesting beginning of the season for sure.

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Bure9620's picture

August 29, 2021 at 05:14 pm

I agree, leaning on the run would help particularly since I think Newman is quite a bit better at run blocking than Pass blocking. I wonder if player GM allows us to lean on the run? I think MLF wants to lean on the run but Rodgers will check out of a lot of runs.

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jannes bjornson's picture

August 29, 2021 at 07:30 pm

Clifton and Tauscher started as rookies, at the more critical Tackle positions and the Pack went to the NFC CH game when sherman withered.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2021 at 09:36 pm

No. Clifton and Tauscher were rookies in 2000. We finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Neither of those players appeared in a Championship game until the 2007 season.

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BruceIrons's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:03 am

With Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Kylin Hill all looking like NFL-level starters, leaning on the run may not be such a bad thing. They all have different running styles and could really keep opposing defenses guessing.

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Todd's picture

August 29, 2021 at 11:55 am

I'm curious, after all the offseason drama, have they consulted with Rodgers at all on the make-up of O-line, particularly if there's someone he's more comfortable with starting over someone else? For example, does Patrick get the start over one of the younger lineman because Rodgers is more comfortable with Patrick playing at this point.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

August 29, 2021 at 12:17 pm

We’ve reached the point where with each personnel decision the immediate first reaction is what does Rodgers want? Will this upset him? The players will now have two objectives, play well for the coaches but make sure Rodgers likes you. You’ll probably see Patrick washing Rodger’s car this afternoon while Kelly fights with Turner over who will pick up Rodger’s laundry.

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Todd's picture

August 29, 2021 at 03:57 pm

"You’ll probably see Patrick washing Rodger’s car this afternoon while Kelly fights with Turner over who will pick up Rodger’s laundry."
LOL! Good one!

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hacksaw61's picture

August 29, 2021 at 02:20 pm

The viqueens page is elsewhere

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Todd's picture

August 29, 2021 at 04:04 pm

Thought that was a pretty straightforward question. After Rodgers laid out his issues with the front office, is he being asked his input or included at all in personnel decisions?

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jont's picture

August 29, 2021 at 06:40 pm

The straight forward answer is "of course he is being asked."

Why? Because LaFleur is a good coach and communicator. As he's looking at possible combinations up front, he asks the coaches, 12, and the OL players themselves (no coach allows a player to be surprised he's on the bench) so that he gets info from every perspective and makes certain that everyone feels involved, respected, and unified going into the season.

I think MLF does this by nature and design. It is possible, though, that he got a lesson in managing people this past summer. Either way, I have full confidence that he's getting it done.

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Todd's picture

August 29, 2021 at 07:28 pm

I agree with you. LaFleur is probably asking him. Question is, is Gutey asking? Especially since that's who Rodgers' beef is with primarily.

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Coldworld's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:08 am

Gute and LaFleur seem to work very closely. If LaFleur knows then Gute does. Since most of Rodgers named beefs predated Gute, I suspect his real beef is with Murphy or the fact that he’s not part of the FO decision process generally.

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PatrickGB's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:27 am

I did and it’s nice and shiny now. Later I swung by to pick up the laundry but once again some Vikings fan stole his underwear.

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Bure9620's picture

August 29, 2021 at 06:50 pm

Player/GM

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MarkinMadison's picture

August 29, 2021 at 10:07 pm

OP was being sarcastic. Everyone needs to lighten up.

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Jaqu’eau's picture

August 29, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Solid insights on the O-line. A few other things to consider. First, there are two weeks to practice before the first game. Two weeks is a long time with a reduced roster. More time to focus and drill down with more reps and smaller units. This differs from years past and it significantly impacts the team’s ability to prepare for week one, and beyond. I think the shuffling will end with a week one starting line determined today, or even earlier. Second, the transition towards game planning will also speed up the team building and communication along the line. There will be growing pains from the rookies and miscommunication from time to time but I don’t expect it to seriously hamper the offense with all the potential weapons they have.

16 points
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BruceIrons's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:07 am

Good point: the extra week gives them a lot more time to get their starters familiar with each other. My guess is that getting the offensive line working through blocking scenarios would be a big focus in practice.

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stockholder's picture

August 29, 2021 at 12:41 pm

I have a problem with two Rookies starting next to each other. But lets go to the start. We signed Turner to play Guard.!!!! Yet Gutey wouldn't sign Bulaga and made Turner and Wagner play RT. Ok thats fine. But look at Turners contract. And look how many guys drafted, could have played RT. Not just Guard. So now we get to mix up the whole OL again. Truthfully, if LeFluer is that dissatisfied with the Guards. Just Keep Jenkins and Turner there. Why keep moving on from All-Pros? Rodgers is already contemplating retirement. The fastest way to get somebody out the door. Is a poor OL. Any RB will tell you that too. We don't need a soft OL either. Newman has a lot to learn. But by forcing change on the veterans?. Their being Forced to do something outside their comfort zone. I get you want depth. But how many think Turner is being given a chance to make All-pro? Especially after Gutey keeps picking up RTs. He was paid to be a Guard. Not be the pea in a shell game.

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PackerAaron's picture

August 29, 2021 at 04:03 pm

Huh? They signed Turner because of his versatility, not to "play guard." Hence the contract. Also, that versatility saved them a bunch last year.

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stockholder's picture

August 29, 2021 at 08:24 pm

Left Guard and moved him. Yes he is versatile

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Johnblood27's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:40 am

Turner was a turnstile at guard in year 1 with the GBP.

He was better in year 2, but was the same ol' turnstile vs TB in the NFCCG last year.

Nuthin special in my book. Better keep a good backup behind him and a short leash on him lest AR become IR.

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

August 29, 2021 at 04:12 pm

I think I remember the coaches saying Turner is a more natural fit at tackle.

4 points
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stockholder's picture

August 29, 2021 at 08:13 pm

No- he moved after Bulaga left. Larry McCarren ran a Piece on Turner when he came to GB. A very good one explaining his roll.

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Coldworld's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:13 am

When he left Denver, who bud up his price to retain him, they had played him at G and also at T due to injuries and saw T as his long term destination rather than G. That’s why they competed to retain him. We brought him in and started him as a guard because we had a need and also a RT, knowing that RT had some health questions and was not likely to be retained. We were lucky the health lasted till he left, when Turner moved to T.

4 points
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Johnblood27's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:41 am

Role, not Roll

Turner was a LT and RT in Miami and Denver, played some G at Denver. He is a VERSATILE OLman and has been his entire career.

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PackAttack4155's picture

August 29, 2021 at 04:15 pm

It doesn't appear any of the recent draft picks, besides Jenkins, are pro-tackle material, even though a few played the position in college, or we'd be reading about them lining up there in practice/preseason. It's fortunate Jenkins is so versatile as he's without doubt the best option at LT after Bahktiari. The best option to protect the QB's blindside should be playing there. Turner was brought in to play the right side of the line, he's a nice versatile player too in that regard. It seemed to me he was better playing tackle last year than guard in 2019. Losing Linsley hurts but the Packers couldn't afford his payday.

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:16 am

The Packers have long signed college Ts to play G. I wouldn’t read too much into that. Which player have we drafted recently specifically to play T?

1 points
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croatpackfan's picture

August 30, 2021 at 10:45 am

David Bakhtiari? If 2014 is recent.

1 points
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Bure9620's picture

August 29, 2021 at 06:59 pm

Despite the down votes, you do actually make a good point about the concern of two rookies starting next to one another.

What I have noticed about Gute's draft tendencies for O-linemen is he typically, actually always, selects guys from big schools who have played a ton of football and started for more than 1 year. Jenkins started all 4 years at Mississippi St, Meyers started atleast 3 years at Ohio state, Van Lanen 3 years at Wisconsin, Hanson 3 years at Oregon, Stepeniak atleast 2 years at Indiana and Newman several years at Ole Miss. Newman has played against a lot of very good D-linemen in the SEC, same with Myers at Ohio St.

4 points
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BruceIrons's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:11 am

The Packers have a history of converting tackles to play guard. I think it gives them a lot of flexibility in how they assemble their line and that comes in really handy when someone gets hurt and they need to shuffle guys around. I'm optimistic they will fine a way to get their best five healthy linemen out there regardless of the circumstances.

4 points
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NJ-RICK's picture

August 29, 2021 at 01:13 pm

Isn't that why they have preseason games..? To build continuity and allow players to remove the rust and function as a single unit. But Matt decided not to play his starters in preseason games. So no excuses, I expect to see a very talented group of players on offense & defense come together Sunday afternoon sept 12th against the New Orleans Saints.

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

August 29, 2021 at 02:27 pm

The alternative is to use practice for that and spend the time making sure you really know what you have on the rest of the roster. Those players make a difference as the season grinds on with respect to ST, as well as 9 and D and in identifying areas where a claim or signing an make a difference both on the 53 and the 16 man PS while minimizing critical injuries.

Which is right? I don’t know, but both approaches have some merits and yet raise questions.

I will be watching to see how Gute addresses positions to see if actual play at positions like OLB is reflected on the roster or if we hang on to players who were poor last year and didn’t play or played poorly this preseason in favor of those who showed well. Cut downs are going to be interesting.

4 points
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MarkinMadison's picture

August 29, 2021 at 10:09 pm

Not this year. This year the Packers threw out the bubble guys and did not give two nickels about getting anything out of the pre-season than personnel evaluation. And I have to say, given how things worked out last year, I can't blame them.

3 points
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BruceIrons's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:20 am

Even if they had played preseason, teams aren't throwing their real game plans at them. The most effective offensive lines typically have guys who've played next to each other multiple years. That's the only way to build the familiarity that comes from adapting on-the-fly to all kinds of different defenses throwing all kinds of different blitz and run stuff packages.

3 points
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mbpacker's picture

August 29, 2021 at 01:53 pm

I won't repeat what others have already stated. I agree that the two weeks before the Saint opener is a gift. The pecking order, as already suggested, will be finalized within days and I'm sure, baring injury, that they know who the starting OL players are. I have faith in Steno and Butkus that they will continue working their magic and coach up the young studs. I agree we should see a commitment to run the ball and maybe more quick passing routes to help out the rookies sure to start. Plus, we have the experience of Rodgers that will also help the OL gel over time. Yeah, we all know their will be growing pains, but even some of our veteran teams have had slow starts. Lets hope we can get off to a good start and keep the injury bug out of our house. Go Pack Go!

9 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 29, 2021 at 01:54 pm

It is very plausible that the semi-new o-line may be somewhat asynchronous for the first few games. Fortunately, the MLF offensive system - when executed properly (Aaron) - can mitigate o-line missteps. This means relying on a running and short passing game. What will not work so well is hanging onto the ball too long and playing sandlot football.

9 points
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Johnblood27's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:45 am

extra points for the use of "asynchronous".

not quite a cookie, but not bad.

must be a Canadian thing, like zed...

3 points
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UGDR's picture

August 29, 2021 at 05:28 pm

Nah ah.

-3 points
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canadapacker's picture

August 29, 2021 at 06:58 pm

There are two big problems with the new Oline - first of course is not let a free runner slam AR to the ground. I guess that is why Jenkins is there because he could play center or Left guard but is needed to protect AR. Secondly can Myers get the ball to AR during these maneuvers to draw the other teams offside but that might not be as much of an issue on the road with the crowd news this year. Finally I am more concerned of the Oline being able to block for the running backs - we need to get yards on each carry not to put us into obvious passing situations - and that is going to be the issue. Dillon only needs a little hole or push to get 3 or 4 yards but we cannot have negative running plays due to poor Oline play.

2 points
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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:50 am

Don't disagree with any of this. The interior is going to be tested early and often. The two weeks this unit has to work together before week 1 will help with the combo blocking for the run game, and fortunately, several of our OL have shown they can be road grading run blockers. The Packers purposely left their guys on islands in the PS, but in game GB can bolster the line with a TE, or even put a FB/TE in the backfield for additional support in both the run and pass game.

1 points
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ImaPayne's picture

August 29, 2021 at 07:52 pm

the o line will be average. it is what it is..... cheap ball at its finest. ya rodgers is gonba get some licks put on him for sure. ya team may ge 0-4 starting out but who knows

-12 points
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Oppy's picture

August 29, 2021 at 11:48 pm

Yup, could be rough sledding, you never know.
Thank god we have the Vikings in the NFC North, they're a great slump buster, it's a real positive for the Packers to have at least two games a year where they know they're probably going to humiliate the Vikings no matter how the rest of the season is going.

5 points
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BruceIrons's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:25 am

Cheap?

David Bakhtiari was the highest-paid offensive lineman in the history of football.

Billy Turner signed a pretty lucrative free agent deal when they brought him in.

Jenkins and Myers were both 2nd round picks, which is high draft capital.

Aside from that, they've brought in draft picks, UDFAs, and even tapped veteran free agency to leave no stone unturned in finding more linemen.

There's some concerns on the line for sure, but I don't think frugality is one of them.

4 points
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Oppy's picture

August 30, 2021 at 06:26 pm

Don't bother, the "Cheap narrative" people don't deal in reality.

0 points
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MarkinMadison's picture

August 29, 2021 at 10:19 pm

I suspect the 1s have developed more chemistry than we know during practice. I'm not that worried about the first two weeks. We'll see how they look after that, but this offense should be great right out of the gate. I'm pumped. Let's go.

4 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 30, 2021 at 12:53 am

I've wondered where all the Runyan love came from. He didn't look good last year, and unfortunately did not make the 2nd year jump.

Jenkins' versatility is wondrous. He isn't a top five OG, OC, LT or RT. Not really a candidate for All-Pro award other than he is young and good so he can improve.

Turner is a decent starter at RT, and an okay starter at RG. Preston and Gary beat him multiple time, but had far less luck with Jenkins.

Myers has drawn rave reviews for his football IQ. His actual play has been reassuringly very decent. He looks like he can run block. A significant downgrade from Linsley. Myers is a good candidate to make the 2nd year jump.

Newman has been good in practice and in games. There is reason for optimism.

LG: fingers crossed until Bakh returns and Jenkins slides back in at LG. Patrick had a career year in 2020. He is looking more like his earlier years. One can hope he pulls it together. If not, Braden is a reasonable candidate until Bakh returns.

4 points
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HarryHodag's picture

August 30, 2021 at 01:51 pm

Matt LF likes to protect his starters from injury in the preseason and I understand his thinking. But I look at the Bills, for example, who ran their starters on both sides of the ball for more than a half.

17 games is a long season and MLF reasons they will get beat up enough during the season. But, as the author here points out, you can't just snap your fingers and the line is in mid-season form. All defenses are very generic during the pre-season and I'm concerned young Myers will see a whole new and advanced defensive arrangement that he needs to make calls on. Newman might be a sensation, but there are big nastys coming, all schooled at the pro level.

It likely wouldn't have done much harm to run the first team offense and defense for awhile at Buffalo. Two rookies starting on the offensive line, last year's starting guard playing left tackle...that's enough to make me concerned.

4 points
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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:53 am

I would have liked to see the starting OL get a couple series, but it is what it is. I have no doubt MLF is going to ask Barry to throw lots of different looks at his offense in practice to help get them ready, too.

3 points
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Spock's picture

August 30, 2021 at 12:02 pm

"Matt LF likes to protect his starters from injury in the preseason and I understand his thinking. But I look at the Bills, for example, who ran their starters on both sides of the ball for more than a half." Did you also notice how many injuries to their starters the Bills had in that game? I personally was very happy to see the preseason used for evaluation as the Packers coaches already know who their starters will be and, as 12h as said on numerous occasions, the practices are far more important than the preseason games for the vets to round into shape.

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HarryHodag's picture

August 30, 2021 at 01:54 pm

Sorry, but I didn't see that many Buffalo injuries. Ask David Bakhtiari if you can get a serious injury in practice.

The theory is regardless of your knowledge you need to get "hardened" to the NFL speed and physicality under game conditions.

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PatrickGB's picture

August 30, 2021 at 09:31 am

I think Matt likes the line to be versatile and may change it based on the plays he wants to call. Campen, (the former Oline) coach preferred line cohesion.

3 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

August 30, 2021 at 11:25 am

Continuity on the OL is a huge plus that pay dividends as the season progresses. Avoiding injuries has a huge impact in this.

However I believe coaching, depth and versatility are as important. So are the intangibles:

Common threads with OLs under Coach Matt and Stenovich are staffing the line with really smart players who had extensive experience in college against top Ds and were leaders/captains on their teams. So many of the Packer O lineman fit this description.

Leadership and high football IQ can smooth the bumps as growing continuity will make the OL even better. I still view the OL as a strength of the Pack for 2021.

2 points
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