Offensive Line will Make or Break the 2021 Packers Offense.

With the Green Bay offense entering year three under Matt LaFleur, the offensive line holds the key to further improvement.

The efficiency of Matt LaFleur’s offense took a seismic leap between year one and year two, rising to become arguably the NFL’s best attack in 2020.

Whether that trend continues, stagnates or regresses in 2021 will largely hinge on the play of Green Bay’s ever-changing offensive line.

The line is one of the few personnel departments to suffer real losses in recent seasons.

The bedrock of David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga and Corey Linsley has been depleted. Only Bakhtiari remains, and he’s no sure bet to return from his ACL injury by week one.

In contrast, the rest of the offensive roster has only got better this offseason.

Amari Rodgers will attempt to bring the dynamic element that has been missing from the Packers wide receiver corps, as a weapon in the slot and out of the backfield.

For the running backs, it could be addition by subtraction, as the departure of Jamaal Williams opens up snaps for the wrecking ball A.J. Dillon to spell Aaron Jones.

In the well-supplied tight end room, Robert Tonyan will be looking to build on his breakout season and become an even bigger part of the Green Bay attack.

Meanwhile, Packers fans will finally get to see what Matt LaFleur can cook up for Josiah Deguara, with the second-year tight end/H-Back adding another layer of complexity to the offense.

LaFleur is still developing as a play caller, and providing Aaron Rodgers suits up in green and gold, the reigning MVP and his ascending head coach should cause havoc for opposing defenses once again.

Fortunately, the O-Line shelf has been restocked in the last two drafts, with six selections used on Jon Runyan Jr, Simon Stepaniak, Jake Hanson, Josh Myers, Royce Newman and Cole Van Lanen.

Add in the veterans Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner, as well as the enigma Josh Nijman and the surprise emergence of Ben Braden, and there’s plenty of competition just to make the roster.

For most teams, not knowing their best offensive line going into the season would be viewed as an issue. In Green Bay… not so much.

The Packers’ ability to mix and match in the trenches last season with a high level of success was astounding and quite frankly, just not normal.

Offensive line coach Adam Stenavich deserves huge credit for the job he’s done readying his players to fill in wherever they’re needed.

That versatility allowed Matt LaFleur to put “the best five out there” based on availability and the opponent.

However, doing the same again this year will be an immense challenge.

Elgton Jenkins will be key to holding the line together, due to the his unique ability to play centre, guard or tackle.

This could come into even sharper focus if Bakhtiari isn’t available to start the season. In that scenario, Jenkins may well be the week one left tackle.

Myers seems to be pencilled in as a day one starter at centre, which would be placing a massive amount of faith in the rookie and lumping enormous responsibility onto his young shoulders.

Taking over from his fellow Ohio State alum Linsley straight away is likely to bring some teething problems, especially as Myers is yet to snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers in practice.

The picture will become clearer in training camp as to the preferred combination, but it’s likely that the offensive line will once again be in flux throughout the 2021 season.

Whether or not the Packers’ line can continue to perform at a consistently high level will be the biggest X-factor in the improvement or decline of the offence as a whole.

 

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Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW

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Comments (21)

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CJ Bauckham's picture

July 01, 2021 at 08:46 am

What is the 'centre' position!? I thought this was America!!

Just kidding, Mark. Thanks for the article

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dobber's picture

July 01, 2021 at 09:03 am

In Canada, the centre plays between the left wing and right wing.

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greengold's picture

July 01, 2021 at 09:04 am

Markoldacres, this is a good and poignant piece. Debates have run rampant on how this team can save cap dollars in other discussions, and I'm left feeling the best route is to stick with those players we know to be the best and look for the money saving cuts elsewhere.

Bakhtiari will probably need a bit more time to mend before he can start again. Based on all of this, I'd say our starting OL this year will likely be:

LT Elgton Jenkins
LG Jon Runyan
C Josh Myers
RG Lucas Patrick
RT Billy Turner

Protecting our QB will be paramount to our success this year, regardless of who is playing QB. This is a unit we can run with, and the pass blocking they would provide should remain top notch.

All of the other players are left to battle it out for what are likely to be 4 remaining spots on the roster, with a 5th spot reserved for Bak. We should have some quality depth everywhere moving forward with all of the additions.

I've thought Lucas Patrick would likely be a cap casualty, but after hearing what many others have said, I tend to agree the $1.9M cap savings would be negligible. Add to that, a Billy Turner trade would take away a very good RT, leaving some big question marks.

Nijman in indeed an enigma. None of us knows where or how they view him. Newman, Braden, Cronk should provide great challenges for the remaining OT position(s). Stepaniak could be a good OG addition to the group. A lot of players there to choose from.

After all, the challenge is to win the Super Bowl, not the cap. Should be a fun battle to watch play out.

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dobber's picture

July 01, 2021 at 09:04 am

"After all, the challenge is to win the Super Bowl, not the cap."

You can't win the SB if you can't beat the cap.

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greengold's picture

July 01, 2021 at 09:29 am

True, but I think you know what I meant. Kind of like the phrase, "You can't take it with you..."

There is a ton of cap space that can be cleared with a Billy Turner trade and a Lucas Patrick Jr. release. Then, we are left with some big unprovens on our OL. I question whether that is the sound choice, especially thinking about what that would do to our depth overall.

TGR's & Leatherhead's comments in the Braden thread and others have convinced me this might be our best course. Sticking with these proven, highly capable players to start. Few question marks with this group, especially with the unknown availability of Bakhtiari.

I agree with you that we might have enough talent on board to make one or both of those moves. It's just the big question right now whether they have the two depth pieces behind them, whoever they might be, ready to start.

I was always more than a little dismayed Ted Thompson did so little in FA his later years, but always had his cap monies... I had often wished he played more there to balance out his talent acquisition process, and you're right, that does require cap dollars to pull off.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 01, 2021 at 08:52 am

Four tackles….Bakhtiari, Turner, Nijman, ???

Five interior guys….Jenkins, Myers, Patrick, Runyon, .????

And two more on the practice squad. That’s 11 linemen. Once training camp starts I’ll have a better idea of how it shakes out , but this is a pretty good group to start the season with.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

My experience is that if you can keep your QB protected, he plays better. The run game seems to work better when guys get blocked, too. So I agree with the author that the Oline is the key to our season..

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Coldworld's picture

July 01, 2021 at 11:59 am

I’m not sure it is “the” key, but it’s certainly one of them. I’d look equally at the defensive front and overall defensive scheme and coordination as pretty critical. To that add QB play and health generally.

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Minniman's picture

July 01, 2021 at 01:01 pm

I disagree Coldworld.

I’m a massive believer in that adage that the game’s won and lost in the trenches and the ‘skill’ positions dictate just by how much.

With potentially Love as the starter this will be magnified for the o-line.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 01, 2021 at 04:54 pm

Actually, Coldworld, I think if your offense scores 30+ points, it doesn’t need much help from the defense. And it’s not going to score 30+ without guys getting blocked. In that sense, it’s “THE “ key. Blocking will help Love, Jones, and Dillon get the ball down the field.

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splitpea1's picture

July 01, 2021 at 06:57 pm

Precise and succinct....every unit on both offense and defense is important to overall success. Providing our QB returns, we know what we have on offense, but the "keys" that needs to fit come playoff time are the defensive coaching and field leadership. By the way, who IS that leader--is ZDS enough?

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Guam's picture

July 02, 2021 at 07:53 am

I think Newman as a fourth rounder in his rookie season is pretty much of a lock for the 53, probably at tackle. I am less certain about Nijman making the 53. He has a ton of athletic ability but in two years he has just not shown much. I think he is about out of "grace period" and will either need to perform or go.

The battle for the last two IOL will be very interesting. Between Runyon, Braden, Stepaniak, Cronk, Van Lanen and others it will be a very interesting TC.

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dobber's picture

July 01, 2021 at 09:04 am

The title picture, with Myers next to Stepaniak next to Rolls Royce, is about the only reference I can find to Stepaniak in OTAs and minicamp. A lot of possible configurations with this unit--just hoping that numbers, quality, and versatility go hand-in-hand.

"Fortunately, the O-Line shelf has been restocked in the last two drafts, with six selections used on Jon Runyan Jr, Simon Stepaniak, Jake Hanson, Josh Myers, Royce Newman and Cole Van Lanen. Add in the veterans Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner, as well as the enigma Josh Nijman and the surprise emergence of Ben Braden, and there’s plenty of competition just to make the roster."

That's 12 names (and it doesn't include Dieter, Cronk, and Johnson)...I'm guessing right now that there will be 10 on the opening roster: they'll need to carry Bakhtiari on the opening roster, even if he needs a couple weeks to catch up, and because of that likely a little extra insurance at T. My guess is that at some point in the first third of the season, they'll pare to 9.

If 10 is your number, initially, then two of these bodies need to go. I think Hanson is a goner: when you get drafted as a C-only player and the next year they draft a C early, the writing is on the wall. He might find himself on the PS. The two other guys I'd be watching closely on this list are Van Lanen and Nijman. I think Van Lanen is a G-only player at this point (and could be a G-C), but I wasn't impressed with him as a Badger (I think Dieter is better). I think he'll struggle to make the cut. I think Nijman's days are numbered, too. Yes, he played in a power conference against good competition--blah, blah--but he couldn't get on the field when he was active and the Packers were forced to juggle their line. Bad sign.

So I think the key unknown are the other UDFA dark horses and whether they can root out some of these named players for spots. I've said it too often, and I'll promise to make this the last time: I think Lucas Patrick gets dealt before final cut-downs. It might seem counter-productive because he's a serviceable OG who has game day versatility at G and C (which will generate some interest) playing on a pretty cheap deal, but my suspicion is that the Packers will be looking to run with the kids and won't resign him. They'll get more in return dealing him now than what they'll get in a 2023 comp pick.

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Coldworld's picture

July 01, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Nothing about linemen and guards in particular means anything at all in shorts.

The only reason it came up is that some surprise people got time with the firsts (notably Braden) and there were indications of where current year signings might be training. Shorts do give useful opportunities for a C to work on both calls and snaps and for coaches to look at footwork, particularly for tackles.

The non appearance of Stepaniak, Nijman or others means nothing at all at this point. They are not new to the coaches and others were expected to be ahead going in to camp.

With a new QB in practice at least, other than your starting C being new anyway, the likely preference was to stick with experience rather than run drills with a completely rotating mix.

When camp opens we will start to see movement as new players get a chance to practice in earnest. That’s when we will see the depth chart start to shake out and how such players stand.

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flackcatcher's picture

July 01, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Timing and other needs forced the Packers to put off drafting OL in 2018-2019. (Yes they did draft Madison, Light etc.) Contracts, Cap and the wild card Covid-19 might have forced Gute's hand in the number of OL drafted in the past couple of years. Still, with the number of contracts up next year, it looks like Gute decided to make lemonade from lemons. (As a rule, the Packers only give third contracts to OT in the line. But with Bahktiari, the Packers are tapped out on the OL. That puts both Patrick and Turner at risk. Patrick this year, and Turner next. I would not be surprised if both are traded or cut for Cap reasons before the season starts. A lot of unknowns at play)

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stockholder's picture

July 01, 2021 at 10:30 am

I don't think it's make or break as much you think. This OL is good enough to make the play-offs; regardless. The key to "advancing": is @t the center position. So I'm not concerned about Bahk at all, or who plays anywhere else. The NFL has changed. The Center is the key position to a stonewall. And if the packers think replacing Linsley was a easy thing to do. Think again. Sure I get your blind side concerns. But it's nothing to worry about in this division. And we still have Lewis just to make sure of that. The Packers s are going to be versatile enough to succeed. Every which way they go. But the position that must anchor this OL, is the center.

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Since'61's picture

July 01, 2021 at 10:36 am

The offense gos as far as the OL will take them. That's always been true in the NFL. Protect the QB and the passing game will be successful, get the run plays blocked and we'll move the ball on the ground and keep our defense off the field.

We have a few question marks on the OL going into TC this season but that is what TC is for. Stenavich will get the OL straightened out by week one.
However, the sooner Bak returns the better. I actually think that we'll be able to go with 9 OLs on the roster given the versatility of the players that we have.

Thanks, Since '61

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 01, 2021 at 10:52 am

'61, I would sooner keep a talented offensive lineman which would make 10 as opposed to your scenario, rather than retain JAG (just another guy) at middle linebacker, for example, who could be picked up on the free agent market if necessary. We have some very young talent on that offensive line and I would like to let them develop. If they would be safe on the practice squad, that would be nice, but it isn't always the case. Just a thought

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Coldworld's picture

July 01, 2021 at 12:17 pm

I think 10 is more likely than usual because I think the plan is to lose one or two vets next year for reasons of youth and cost. I assume we will try to stash on the PS as well, but if players stand out I think we will not risk exposure for as many as possible.

I’m not in a hurry to rush Bakh. Our line should be sufficiently capable for the regular season. I’d want to be sure he wasn’t just capable of playing but truly ready before risking him being reinsured or just not himself. He will be too valuable later to risk unless we are really struggling to get in the playoffs due to poor line play.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 01, 2021 at 11:16 am

Great defenses have outstanding linemen and linebackers. That’s what the offense faces every play. Sometimes it’s split second success by an offensive lineman that makes all the difference in a play. One missed block can mess up a play. And those O-linemen get injured a lot and don’t get to rotate in and out of the game. I understand the need.

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Koostyroosty's picture

July 01, 2021 at 03:16 pm

We've got some talent on the O-line. I'm going with "Make".

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 01, 2021 at 10:42 pm

Lots and lots of names. Not very many high draft picks. Lots of projection. Real dependent on the versatility of Jenkins, Turner, and Patrick. It would be helpful if Myers is good because it preserves that versatility during the season. If he is a bust (it happens) then one of Jenkins or Patrick has to play OC. I don't like Patrick at center, but maybe he will show the same improvement at OC that he did at OG, assuming he makes the 53. It is still a 53 not a 55.

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