Experts considered the Green Bay Packers offensive line one of the team’s strengths before the season started. Now, after just two games, the offensive line has lost its two best players to injuries.
Before the Packers Week 2 contest in Atlanta, left tackle David Bakhtiari suffered swelling in his knee according to head coach Matt LaFleur. It remains unclear how much longer Bakhtiari will be limited by the knee injury and whether his knee will ever allow him to practice and play without limitation.
In the first half of the game against the Falcons, left guard Elgton Jenkins suffered a sprained MCL. He is expected to miss the home opener this Sunday against the Saints. The Packers have not said how long he will be out of the lineup due to this injury.
The Packers Offensive Line Is Missing Its Two Best Players
Bakhtiari and Jenkins both have Pro Bowl honors on their resume. Bakhtiari is a two-time All Pro and has earned Pro Bowl honors three times. Jenkins was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team after the 2020 and 2022 seasons. These two players gave the Packers arguably the best left side of an offensive line in the NFL. But now, one or both these players may be unavailable.
So, how will the Packers coaching staff deal with these losses? They have several options for sure. Here is a look at the choices.
The Packers Offensive Line First Option If David Bakhtiari Can Play
If Bakhtiari plays on Sunday against the Saints, the Packers have just one missing player to replace in the starting lineup. They would still have several options to do that.
Newman has more starting experience than Rhyan. He did a satisfactory job in replacing Jenkins against the Falcons. His pass blocking grade was better than his run blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus. In his previous NFL seasons, Newman struggled with stunts and blitz pickups and took too many penalties.
Rhyan disappointed in his rookie year, appearing in just one game and taking just one special teams’ snap before being suspended for violating the league’s PED policy.
The UCLA alum appeared to make progress in training camp and in preseason. In fact, Rhyan was outplaying Newman according to many observers. Still, the Packers coaching staff is more likely to go with the more experienced Newman unless he proves he is not equal to the task.
Second Option if David Bakhtiari Can Play
The second option involves more moving parts. The Packers could move Tom to left guard alongside Bakhtiari and then insert either Rasheed Walker or Yosh Nijman at right tackle. Tom is extremely versatile and can play any of the five positions along the offensive line effectively.
Walker filled in at left tackle against the Falcons and did very well as a pass blocker but struggled blocking for the run. Last week was his first NFL start. It may be too much to ask him to switch to the right side but that is a decision the coaches must make.
Nijman has more experience playing right tackle but struggled in the preseason and fell out of favor with the coaching staff. This move may strengthen the left side of the line, but would the coaching staff trust either Walker or Nijman enough to start at right tackle?
Packers Offensive Line Options If Bakhtiari Can’t Play
Obviously, things get more complicated if Bakhtiari isn’t ready to play against New Orleans. Then the coaching staff has two players to replace and many options to fill the vacancies.
The big question is where you play Tom. He may be the best candidate to move to left tackle with either Walker or Nijman filling in at right tackle. Newman or Rhyan fill in at left guard and the center and right guard remain the same.
They could also keep Walker at left tackle to replace Bakhtiari. Then the Pack could either keep Tom at right tackle or move him to left guard and insert Nijman at right tackle.
It’s unlikely Nijman would play left tackle as he has struggled there in the past. The coaching staff seems to have lost confidence in him and would likely be reluctant to put him on the left side.
Tom could also stay at right tackle with Walker staying at left tackle and Newman (or Rhyan) at left guard.
The coaching staff needs to figure out which configuration gives them the best chance to protect Jordan Love and open holes for the Aaron Jones (if he returns), A.J. Dillon and the rest of the running backs. Hopefully, the pieces fall together quickly, and the players rise to the occasion.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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