Green Bay Packers: Unsung vets ready to take flight

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 26: Lane Taylor /

Progress reports on rookie performers getting their first taste of professional football are often the primary topics of interest on the grueling summer days of training camp, but this year’s first two weeks of preseason practices have seen one fifth-year offensive guard and a fourth-year linebacker combine to make their respective cases for breakout campaigns in 2017.

Lane Taylor and Jayrone Elliott are far from marquee names, but both should be playing significant roles in helping the Packers qualify for February football in Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium.

Taylor is coming off a successful first season as Green Bay’s starting left guard, who despite some early hiccups, finished the 2016 season with a flourish by playing his trademark physical brand of football, as well as making strides in pass protection.

The 27-year-old has built off his steady late-year progress by combining with linemate David Bakhtiari to bring a bit of attitude to daily camp sessions and even winning his share of one-on-ones against the team’s top defender Mike Daniels.

Those that are awed by that accomplishment would be advised to review Taylor’s dominant showing versus Detroit last December in which the 324-pound piledriver routinely overwhelmed opposing linemen while opening creases for Aaron Ripkowski.

Four weeks earlier, No. 63 was the league’s highest-rated offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) for his stellar work in protecting Aaron Rodgers from an imposing Texans front seven (yes, imposing even without J.J. Watt).

Overall, Taylor has silenced naysayers lamenting last year’s surprise release of Josh Sitton, but the ascending Oklahoma State product must continue enhancing his footwork and agility if he hopes to ramp up his game even further.

One area he’s really developed in is his ability to pull and get to the second level on running plays proving that he’s more than just a block of granite that can stonewall interior linemen.

Over on the other side of the ball, Elliot may not be in the running for a starting job, but he suddenly finds himself on the verge of seeing his snaps take a significant jump with the likes of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones no longer on the team.

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The one-time undrafted small-school phenom has done nothing but boost his value since he first donned a green and gold jersey.

Through the years, he’s outlasted fellow outside linebackers Adrian Hubbard, Carl Bradford, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer and the aforementioned Jones not necessarily because he was miles better than them in terms of being a pure pass rusher.

Instead, Elliott has thoroughly embraced his role on special teams and ranks right up there with Jeff Janis in covering punts and kickoffs.

And though No. 91 hasn’t had many opportunities to contribute in defensive packages, he’s been productive in limited action.

Over the past two seasons, in fact, the long-armed (see 82-inch wingspan) edge defender has averaged more sacks per snap (one per 77.5 as per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky) than Clay Matthews, who sports an inferior average (127.4 snaps) over the same stretch.

The Packers’ front office recognized the 26-year-old’s upside when they re-signed him to 1-year, $600,000 prove-it deal, as much will be expected of both Elliott and Kyler Fackrell with the aging —and dare I say fading—Matthews primed for a reduction in snaps.

So far, Elliott has done nothing to make the coaching staff harbor any doubts about Elliott assuming a larger role by making several impact plays in camp.

In addition to winning most of his one-on-ones, the Cleveland-born has also been effective knifing through the offensive line and even swatting down passes, as he did on one particular rep.

Linebackers coach Winston Moss heaped praise on Elliott during a presser earlier in the week by stating, “Elliott has done a really good job this training camp. I think he started out playing with a lot more physicality. He’s still trying to find and hone his pass-rushing skills, his identity.”

The pass-rush skills are there, as evidenced by the young vet’s combination of agility and closing speed. Elliott’s biggest hurdle remains his inability to consistently carry out his assignments.

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Elliott and Taylor are both entering their walk years and both can stand to earn very generous multi-year deals should they continue to blossoming in their now prominent roles.

It all starts one week from today.