The Green Bay Packers offensive line struggled in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. This was not a surprise with their top two linemen, Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari, both still out of the lineup due to their continued rehab from long-term injuries.
The Packers had to adjust. Yosh Nijman got the start at left tackle in the game with Jake Hanson getting the nod at right guard and Royce Newman at right tackle.
Unfortunately, the offensive line was unable to do enough to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers quarterback was sacked four times and pressured throughout the game. The right side of the offensive line was particularly vulnerable with Hanson and Newman giving up most of the sacks and pressures during the game.
The Packers also got more bad news early in the second half. Left guard Jon Runyan, Jr. left the game and was evaluated for a concussion. He did not return and rookie Zach Tom filled in. Tom’s run blocking was good although he was less consistent in pass protection.
Now the Packers need to figure out what to do with their offensive line for their next game, Sunday night against the Bears at Lambeau Field.
The status of Runyan is still up in the air. He is in the league’s concussion protocols and will have to get out of them to practice again and be eligible to play in the game. Concussions are tricky things and the time it takes to recover from them is unpredictable. There is a very real possibility that Runyan will not be ready to play before Sunday night and there is a realistic chance he will be ready.
The status of Bakhtiari and Jenkins also remains uncertain. Jenkins was ahead of Bakhtiari in his return according to most reports but both were held out of the lineup against the Vikings. In addition, the Packers coaching staff and front office need to walk a fine line between getting the offensive line hope for the next game while not sacrificing the long-term health of their two best players. Matt LaFleur’s team is better off having Bakhtiari and Jenkins available in November, December and January than it is to have them ready for Week 2.
The Packers did already make a move on Tuesday to fortify their offensive line. They activated offensive tackle Caleb Jones from the practice squad. Linebacker Krys Barnes was placed on the IR to make room for Jones on the 53-man roster. The 6’9” and 370-pound Indiana alum will now become the biggest player in Packers franchise history.
Again, the hope for the Packers is that Jenkins will be ready to play in Week 2 but that is far from guaranteed. If he is, the team will likely slot Jenkins in at right tackle and keep Nijman at left tackle. Jones would be available at swing tackle for depth.
If Runyan returns, he will slot in at left guard again. If he can’t go, Tom is the most likely candidate to fill in for Runyan.
The right tackle situation is also up in the air. If Jenkins isn’t playing, Newman could get another start even though he struggled in Week 1. If Runyan is back, Tom would also be a possible candidate to start at right tackle with Newman moving to right guard to replace Hanson who was the weakest link among the offensive linemen against the Vikings.
Candidates at right guard include Hanson, Newman and Tom all of whom could start even though they all have questions. Hanson was beaten badly often in the first game. Tom has never started a game in the NFL and would be switching from left guard to right if he gets the nod. His versatility and steady play in training camp and the preseason are a big reason he is in position to fill in here although he may be needed at left guard if Runyan is still not able to play. Newman didn’t play well at right tackle but could be better at right guard when he started 16 games last season.
Regardless of who the five starters are, the Packers offense will need to make adjustments that they failed to make against Minnesota. They will need to emphasize the run more to utilize their best offensive weapons and keep the Bears defense from teeing off on Rodgers.
They will also need to throw more quick release passes and have tight ends and running backs chip pass rushers off the edge to help these inexperienced and challenged players forced into action on the offensive line. If Rodgers holds onto the ball for a long time attempting to throw downfield for chunk plays on a regular basis, the Packers will be in trouble.
The offensive line will be a big challenge for the Packers coaching staff early in the season until Jenkins and Bakhtiari are both back in the lineup. It could then become a strength once the veterans return to form and the youngsters gain more experience. But right now, it’s a part of the offense the coaching staff must cover for until they return to form.
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