Like much of the team thus far this season, the Green Bay Packers offensive line is a work in progress. There are some areas that are working well, some that are questionable and others that need to be addressed by changes in the lineup or big improvements in the way individual players perform.
The line can and should get better over the course of the season but it will require some work, some time, a little luck and perhaps some changes in the lineup.
Here are five observations about the offensive line after five games:
- Elgton Jenkins Is Rounding Into Form
We all expected that once Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari returned from serious, season-ending knee injuries, it would take them time to play themselves back into form.
Jenkins certainly proved this with his play. He returned for Week 2 and ha started the last four games. The former Pro Bowl guard struggled at right tackle, especially in pass protection in his first few games back.
This past week against the Giants, Jenkins looked more like his old self. While he still isn’t playing as well as he did a year ago at left tackle (before his injury) his pass protection has improved and he was not responsible for any of the sacks or pressures by the Giants defense in London last Sunday.
The Packers need strong play from Jenkins, one of the team’s two best offensive linemen, to get the offense clicking on all cylinders.
- David Bakhtiari Is Slowly Coming Back
Bakhtiari missed nearly all the 2021 season and spent this preseason on the PUP list. He returned to the lineup in Week 3 and has seen a varying amount of playing time thus far as he plays himself back into form.
In his first game back against the Bucs, he and Yosh Nijman alternated series at left tackle and he played 35 snaps. The following week against the Patriots, Bakhtiari played 70 snaps. That number went down to 25 snaps against the Giants in London as the Packers again alternated Bakhtiari and Nijman by series.
Since Bakhtiari is older than Jenkins and had more complications after his initial injury, his recovery was expected to take longer than that of his teammate. He seems to be slowly rounding back into form.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly feels more confident with Bakhtiari in the lineup and if his knee holds up, Bakhtiari’s performance should continue to improve as the season goes on.
How quickly Bakhtiari is ready to play a full game and how his knee holds up when he does are keys to allowing the Packers to make some potential moves that could improve the offensive line.
- Royce Newman Continues to Struggle
The weakest link on the Packers offensive line remains right guard Royce Newman. Last year, Newman was a rookie and his struggles were not a surprise. He had difficulty with stunts and blitz pickups and was the weakest link on the offensive line.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed this season. His run blocking remains average at best and his pass blocking continues to be a problem. Against the Giants, he was beaten repeatedly and more pressure was placed on Rodgers because of his struggles.
Thus far, Newman has allowed three sacks and 12 pressures according to PFF.
Should the Packers keep Newman in the lineup and give him a chance to improve or should they look to replace him? Getting better play at right guard would improve the quality of the offensive line’s overall performance.
- How Do They Solve the Right Guard Situation?
The Packers would have several choices to improve the play at right guard. They could insert rookie Zach Tom into the lineup at right guard if Tom is ready to start. Tom has played 30 snaps on offense thus far this season with all of them coming in Week 1. The coaching staff would need to believe Tom would be an improvement over Newman even though he has less NFL experience than Newman does.
The Packers could also move Jenkins back to guard although that is less likely if Jenkins continues to play better at right tackle. If they do that, they could move Jenkins back to left guard where he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020 and move Jon Runyan, Jr. to right guard. Or they could move Jenkins directly to right guard and keep Runyan at left guard.
Any of these choices would be an attempt to improve the play at right guard.
- Where Does Yosh Nijman Fit In?
Right now, Nijman is splitting time with Bakhtiari at left tackle. If the Packers want to move Jenkins back to guard, they first must be confident that Bakhtiari’s knee would hold up if he played a full game each week and then they could move Nijman to the right tackle spot.
Nijman played right tackle in college but has played the left side almost exclusively with the Packers. Again, the coaching staff would need to believe the move would be an overall upgrade for the line.
If they don’t move Jenkins to guard and Bakhtiari remains healthy, Nijman will remain the team’s third tackle and provide the team with depth at the position.
Head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive line coach Luke Butkus have said they want the five best players starting along the offensive line. Now they need to figure out who those best five players are and where they should play. That needs to be an ongoing process throughout the season.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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