Packers Offensive Line Play a Key In Preseason Opener

There are a lot of things to watch for when the Green Bay Packers open their 2022 preseason schedule Friday night in San Francisco. No, Aaron Rodgers and many of the team’s starters won’t be playing, but that gives rookies and other players fighting for jobs a chance to show what they can do.

The most critical unit to watch on Friday will likely be the offensive line. With both David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins still on the PUP list and the offseason departures of Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner, the Packers do not have another player with more than 16 career NFL starts on the roster. First string left guard Jon Runyan, Jr. started 16 games last season, the most of any remaining offensive lineman now active.

The offensive line is a key to making the offense go. Once the regular season starts next month, they will be needed to protect franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers and to open holes for Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon in the run game. More than any other unit on the field, the offensive line relies on coordination and familiarity to be effective especially when picking up stunts and blitzes. That means the sooner the Packers coaching staff can put together the starting lineup, the better.

Right now, according to the team’s “unofficial” depth chart, the starting unit is Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Runyan at left guard, second-year man Josh Myers at center, Jake Hanson at right guard and Royce Newman at right tackle.

Nearly all these players have a lot to prove. Nijman is looking to lock down one of the two starting tackle spots until the injured players return and to prove the coaching staff’s decision not to start him in the team’s playoff loss to the 49ers in January was a mistake. Myers is coming off a rookie season cut short by injuries. Hanson is looking like he has taken a step forward thus far in training camp but has to prove he can get the job done in game situations against opposing teams. When everyone is healthy, Hanson may take over Patrick’s former role as the top backup at all three interior positions. Newman started at guard last season but struggled at times with his assignments until late in the season. He needs to prove he deserves a job once Bakhtiari and Jenkins return whether that be at guard or tackle.

The coaching staff will also get their first look at the three offensive linemen they selected in this year’s NFL Draft. Zach Tom has been the fastest out of the gate so far and has taken some snaps with the first team in practice. The versatile Wake Forest alum is listed as the second string right tackle but is capable of playing anywhere along the line. Look for Tom to get reps at multiple positions over the course of the preseason.

Sean Rhyan has struggled with stunts and blitz pickups and has been beaten badly at times in practice but that’s par for the course for a rookie. The UCLA product will finally get the chance to show what he can do in a game. It is important that Rhyan shows flashes of the ability that caused GM Brian Gutekunst to select him in the first place even if he makes his share of mistakes early on.

Tackle Rasheed Walker has been slowed by injuries early in camp. He has the raw physical talent to succeed in this league but needs to improve his technique and consistency.

The coaching staff will also want to see if Cole Van Lanen has made progress in his second season. The former Wisconsin star spent most of his first NFL season on the practice squad and was activated for just one game all year and played just one snap on offense. He has looked better in training camp and is battling for a roster spot this year.

Creating continuity will be important for the offensive line and it all starts in San Francisco. The Packers offense will not be explosive without solid play from the offensive line. This is the first of three chances this young unit will have to impress the coaching staff and it is an area that bears close attention on Friday night.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (35)

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Coldworld's picture

August 11, 2022 at 12:23 pm

You overlook Caleb Jones who has steadily climbed from the bottom to RT with the seconds and most recently LT with them. We will see a lot of him.

At this point he’s possibly the third true T (so excluding Newman) after Nijman and Tom currently healthy based on that. Certainly he’s looking at least in competition with CVL if he has not surpassed him as he has Walker based on recent usage. For a largely unheralded UDFA, that’s quite some progress. I’d say he’s one well worth watching. Shouldn’t be hard to spot either.

Is Tom real at this point? To me he looks overmatched physically to a point where his technique is negated, particularly at RT. He needs to show that he can hold up in full contact against some true opposing roster candidates. I hope he proves me wrong, but I’m skeptical. If my fears are realized, Tom could slip back fast, at least as a T.

It seems possible that the plan all along was to red shirt Walker after injury and to work on technique quietly with him heading to the PS . Certainly he’s anchored on the bottom so far and apparently has not looked great (possibly as a result of that injury and technical work).

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

August 11, 2022 at 01:02 pm

Good catch CW. I’ve also been wondering about Caleb. He reminds me of past UDFAs who didn’t get a lot of preseason play and were “quietly” slipped onto the practice squad.

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T7Steve's picture

August 11, 2022 at 01:07 pm

I have my fingers crossed for Caleb too. Size maters. The weight of him and Nijman can wear out a lot of pass rushers towards the end of games. Their push in the run game is obvious too.

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BuckyBadger's picture

August 11, 2022 at 04:08 pm

Caleb Jones is a mountain of a man but I think has a long ways to go before he plays in the NFL. Size is good but this guy is at a size you worry about him having the proper bend for edge rushers at the NFL level. He is a jar on the shelf as Vic would say but I think be a little premature to think he would be an option for this year. Tom is a much more polished prospect to start this year than Jones.

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Coldworld's picture

August 11, 2022 at 07:33 pm

Polished he is but he’s also smaller and less powerful than Bakh was. We forget that Bakh had issues with that aspect early on even then. Moreover Bakh played LT from the outset. RT is usually seen as a less finesse role.

If Tom stands up and looks good, all is rosy. If not snd he gets manhandled, it’s Newman, Jones maybe or a vet with Tom back to the weight room, though his frame looks a lot more maxed out than Bakh’s was.

Jones has progressed a long way in a short time. My suggestion was to watch him as he may well be a keeper. Tom has seemingly regressed in play and opportunity since pads went on. Tom may show that he’s adjusted or Jones, however ready, may be our best internal option. The games will show us much more.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 11, 2022 at 10:50 pm

For some reason I was thinking Kelly wasn't signed until camp was almost over but they signed him July 29th. They signed Wagner in March of '20 and Valdheer in November. I have feeling if they were going to add a T they would have done it by now. Which I'm hoping means they think one of them is going to be back soon or they're willing to roll the dice for a week or two.

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Coldworld's picture

August 12, 2022 at 07:17 am

I think they are willing to hold on for a few weeks. I’m just cautious with this type of injury in particular. There can be issues ramping up towards passing the physical and then after. The player is often not himself for quite a period after being deemed healthy too. To my mind, one needs a contingency plan and I’m not sure I’m buying the one we are seeing. Perhaps games will make my lack of confidence look foolish. One can hope.

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ReaganRulz's picture

August 12, 2022 at 04:09 pm

If you guys have not seen Caleb Jones, you need to find him tonight and admire his sheer size. I’ve watched him at Indiana University the past 4 years and it’s frick’n comical on how big he is. Now, his performance at IU was nothing to be proud of. He plays soft and gets tired easy. I’m hoping that his conditioning is better and that he somehow has gotten a mean streak. There were several games that he got pulled. So there’s a reason why he went undrafted. Just trying to keep it real and hope that he somehow plays different than what I personally observed at IU.

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T7Steve's picture

August 11, 2022 at 12:24 pm

If Nijman starts to lock down the left, and Ruyan continues to get better (I love the no penalties last year) do you see a scenario where Jenkins and Bakhtiari come back and take over the right side? Wouldn't that be better on their knees?

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 11, 2022 at 01:31 pm

Perhaps, but they aren't Paying Bakhtiari the big bucks to play on the right side of the line. They need his skills at left tackle to protect Rodgers blind side.

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T7Steve's picture

August 11, 2022 at 01:47 pm

Thanks. I realize that. I was just thinking it would be a rehab assignment for them to get back and dialed in sooner.

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Coldworld's picture

August 11, 2022 at 02:08 pm

I could see Jenkins taking over at LG if they think Nijman is the best option at RT if Bakh is back and Newman is struggling (I don’t think he will at G). Whether they would move him or Runyon is uncertain. My guess is that they’d leave Runyon.

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TarynsEyes's picture

August 11, 2022 at 02:05 pm

When Bakht comes back, and he cannot take back the LT spot, it becomes time to seriously think how to get rid of him. I don't think he'll take a huge pay cut to play RT, and the FO can't justify paying him LT money for RT play.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him traded at the deadline if he has to on IR to start the season.

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Coldworld's picture

August 11, 2022 at 02:09 pm

I think he is here this season but gone next as long as Jenkins and Nijman stay healthy.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 11, 2022 at 03:46 pm

Trading him is a non starter. They can't afford the dead money hit that would come with a trade. They'd get pennies on the dollar on top of that if they could trade him. The best they can do is a June 1st designation next year and spread the hit over two years.

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Packer_Fan's picture

August 11, 2022 at 12:47 pm

The starting lineup for this preseason game will probably be the starting lineup for game one of the season. Except perhaps if Thom makes a run.

Bak and Jenkins are not ready and I don't want to rush them in. They need to be ready for November, December and the playoffs.

In the meantime keep Rodgers healthy with the short passing game. And lean heavily on the defense.

And this is where special teams will be important along with turnovers to give Rodgers short fields.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

August 11, 2022 at 01:07 pm

A very pithy and timely article, Gil.
Given the reports from practices, OL seems to be the “weak spot” on this roster. Maybe it’s just the high quality DL, but the lack of experience and high picks makes it feel pretty significant.
I’m also surprised at Rhyan’s problems so far; I haven’t given up on him, but I expected better.

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GilMartin's picture

August 11, 2022 at 08:57 pm

Thanks PackEyedOptimist, glad you enjoyed the article. I agree, OL is an area of concern. It's way too early to give up on Rhyan as you said, but sometimes it takes time for rookies to click. We'll see. Lots of unknowns right now. Thanks for commenting.

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Rarescope's picture

August 11, 2022 at 10:32 pm

I was hoping for more from Ryan too. I seem to remember thinking he might need to bulk up a little bit when reading about him after the draft though. They spent plenty of time working with Nijman to get him where he’s at so I’m not too worried about Ryan long term. It’s just those damn ACL injuries that have decimated our line even making this something to be concerned about.

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BuckyBadger's picture

August 11, 2022 at 01:39 pm

Tom is a guy I liked when they drafted him. He has the physical tools you look for at the next level. This isn't the OL you want to be running with all season long. Hopefully Jenkins and Bahk return and can still play at a high level or this team will struggle vs good defensive lines. If every one is healthy I would like to see Bahk and Jenkins back at their positions on the left side and let the rest of the guys sort out RG and RT. Jenkins is a good tackle but he is a special guard that plays at a HOF level there. Sounds more and more likely that we will be midseason before the OL has a chance to be 100%.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 11, 2022 at 07:56 pm

IDK. I think Jenkins has played his finest football as a left tackle. TBH, I think he was considerably better there. Maybe that was just him getting better in his third season and he'd have been better at OG as well.

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Coldworld's picture

August 11, 2022 at 08:11 pm

Jenkins is going to get paid as a T because teams know that. It’s only a matter of time and which side. Nijman is actually athletically a more prototypical LT, but he has the size and power to play on the right, so in some combination they are out future bookends most likely. If Tom really comes on, perhaps they let one go but he’d likely need to be on the left long term too. At this point, Tom isn’t really a rival to either.

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coolhand's picture

August 12, 2022 at 09:40 am

I would say, if Bahk and Jenkins are back on the left side, move Runyon to RG and then hopefully Nijman at RT if he can make the transition.

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canadapacker's picture

August 11, 2022 at 02:19 pm

What I posted in July "If Bak isnt back by around August 15th then he probably wont be back ever. He will need that much time to get into game shape - not mentally but physically and into the game plan situations. """ I hope that he is back at practice and off of the PUP list next week. I cant see him starting the season inactive and him ever coming back. I know that you never let other teams know what is going on from an injury perspective especially if you are going to try and sneak somebody onto the PS but - for Bak it has been a long time and too many procedures after the big one. Too bad because he was a force and we have a lot of capital sunk into him.

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Lare's picture

August 11, 2022 at 03:51 pm

I'm just wondering why the OL aren't wearing knee braces to help protect against ACL injuries.

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BuckyBadger's picture

August 11, 2022 at 04:09 pm

Many ditch them after college because it slows them down.

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PatrickGB's picture

August 11, 2022 at 04:13 pm

Oops Bucky, you beat me to it. Good pickup!

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PatrickGB's picture

August 11, 2022 at 04:12 pm

I read somewhere that the many players don’t like them because they feel it slows them down. I don’t have a clue if it’s actually true.

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Coldworld's picture

August 11, 2022 at 07:43 pm

It’s not just quickness but flexibility. They restrict movement and make some players feel inhibited. There are instances where braces actually contributed to injuries too. Before we get too dismissive, remember most of those who had to wear them in college are very happy not to in the NFL.

Ultimately, the CBA limits what equipment the teams can mandate and, for these guys, athleticism is how they earn their money or don’t. Many will see braces as possibly protecting them of a roster or a big contract etc. more than as a help to prolong their career.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 11, 2022 at 04:42 pm

If Rodgers has time to do his job, and Dilllon/Jones has holes to run through, this offense will stay on the field, control the ball, and score points. Conversely, nothing would derail this season more quickly than losing our starting QB to an injury. Those big eaters have to work together, and that means they have to be on the field together.

If we can put 5 healthy pushers out there, we'll be fine.

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GregC's picture

August 11, 2022 at 07:32 pm

I'm not expecting much. It seems like defenses thrive on the chaos of preseason football, and offensive lines tend to struggle. But maybe if they keep the same five guys out there for a quarter or more, they can find some kind of a groove.

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PatrickGB's picture

August 12, 2022 at 08:02 am

Yet, this team seems to prefer versatile linemen. Matt even speaks about possible change ups, game by game. I wonder if that actually hurts line play. They don’t get to settle in and know their neighbors strengths and weaknesses. I fully understand the need for players to be able to step in if needed but all these changes of positions have got to have a downside too.

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Guam's picture

August 12, 2022 at 08:01 am

To date it appears that CVL and Walker are competing for roster spots, not starting berths and Rhyan is a roster lock but is also not competing for a starting position. Assuming Nijman, Runyon and Myers compose the left side of the line, that leaves Newman, Hanson, Tom and the surprising Caleb Jones as competitors for the right side starting berths. That grouping of four potential starters on the right side does not give me great peace of mind. Let's see what tonight's game brings, but I suspect either Bahk or Jenkins need to get well in a hurry or Gute needs to find some help. Starting week one with a right side of Hanson and Newman makes me very nervous with an aging and somewhat less mobile QB on whom our Super Bowl dreams rest.

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HarryHodag's picture

August 12, 2022 at 09:00 am

"The offensive line is a key to making the offense go."

True, but that can be said about any game of football. You win with a good offensive line. Without them, Aaron Rodgers would be Sam Darnold. Without them Aaron Jones would be this week's washout back.

The old ball coach once said, "it all starts with the offensive line". If your line can dominate the line of scrimmage you can generate ball control, control the clock and wear out the defense, ultimately winning the game by keeping your defense fresh. That is true of any game. The 49'ers won the playoff game in part by winning the battle at the line.

I'm a defense junkie but the truism of the offensive line goes back 100 years. Nothing happens without a great offensive line and this is my biggest worry heading into this season.

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PackyCheese500's picture

August 12, 2022 at 09:16 am

The Offensive Line is, outside of the QB, the most important key to offensive success. I agree that EJ and Bakh shouldn’t be rushed back into the starting lineup. I think Tom can eventually develop into a good player, but I don’t know if he’s ready to start right away. Newman has gained weight this off-season to be better suited to playing Guard, and it would be best not to have him at Tackle. I think the Packers should sign a veteran OT, like Eric Fisher or Daryl Williams, before week 1. It would be like what Rick Wagner and Dennis Kelly were for the Packers the last couple of years.

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