Packers’ offensive tackles face a difficult schedule in 2021

Green Bay Packers, David Bakhtiari (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, David Bakhtiari (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

When you look at the 2021 opponents for the Green Bay Packers, one thing becomes worryingly apparent as you scroll down the list; elite edge rusher talent.

Next season the Packers must face T.J. Watt, Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett, Chase Young, Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack (twice). Also don’t forget about Vikings’ Danielle Hunter who was sidelined for the entire 2020 season with a herniated disk.

The issue for the Packers is that as it stands, they only have two healthy offensive tackles entering Week 1 of next season: Billy Turner and Yosh Nijman.

Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins has proven he can play at any of the five offensive line positions, but with the departure of Corey Linsley in free agency now likely, Jenkins may be handed the full-time center duties, a role he played in five games in 2020, along with two full seasons at Mississippi State.

As for David Bakhtiari, we have no way of knowing when he will be healthy enough to return to the field. We hope he can somehow manage to make it back for the season opener, but historical data on torn ACL injuries dictate it could be until mid-to-late October before the All-Pro left tackle is cleared to return to action.

This leaves a difficult task on the hands of offensive line coach Adam Stenavich, who must ensure the line keeps afloat for the first few weeks at least.

In the meantime, GM Brian Gutekunst must provide Stenavich with suitable depth and possibly a future starting lineman if he chooses to address the position at a premium draft pick.

Gutekunst added depth through free agency last year by signing former Detroit Lions OT Rick Wagner and following multiple injuries on the O-line, Wagner soon became a very capable starter. Therefore making the decision to sign him a highlight on Gutekunst’s resumé.

Now, following Wagner’s somewhat surprising, but entirely understandable release, the Packers must go shopping yet again for valuable trench pieces. It’s worth noting that they already have three players from day three of last year’s draft waiting in the wings, including former Michigan interior lineman Jon Runyan Jr.

If the Packers opt to keep Jenkins on the interior, either at his natural left guard or transitioning him to center, you could be looking at a combination of Lucas Patrick, Jenkins and Runyan Jr. on the interior.

That would leave Billy Turner manning one tackle spot however the hole at the other, prior to David Bakhtiari’s return, still remains.

This is where the Packers can get creative. Jenkins can slide out to fill the LT role until #69 returns, and Lane Taylor, who was the clear-cut starting right guard through last year’s training camp can reclaim a starting spot on the inside if he’s re-signed. Taylor practically missed the entire season after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 vs. the Vikings.

So the offensive line can stay afloat with the pieces it has right now, but that doesn’t prevent the alarm bells from ringing if they sustain an injury.

Offensive line injuries are inevitable, and they are something that every team must deal with. Last year the Packers saw Bakhtiari, Jenkins and Linsley all miss time, however they made sure they had the depth in place to deal with each injury accordingly.

For free agency, Green Bay could bring someone in on a veteran minimum contract or thereabouts, however it’s unlikely that they sign anyone with a similar price tag to Rick Wagner who’s 2021 cap hit stood at $6 million.

As for the draft, it’s difficult to project actual names for the Packers, as they could bring in any lineman, at any position, in any round of the draft. However if they opt to draft one at pick 29, the likes of Tevin Jenkins, Jalen Mayfield, and Alex Leatherwood are names to keep an eye on when April 29 rolls around.

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