The Green Bay Packers scouting department and front office can’t help but salivate whenever they see an offensive lineman who can bounce around to different spots up front. The roster this year features plenty of those pieces on the chess board. With that versatility up front, the Packers will have many options, leading to some tricky decisions.
David Bakhtiari‘s availability to start the year will have one hell of a domino effect on how things pan out elsewhere on the line. Yosh Nijman was out with the first team at left tackle on Day 1 of training camp. But many wondered if he would’ve been the right tackle had Bakhtiari been good to go. Of course, Elgton Jenkins would likely slot in at right tackle if he weren’t recovering from his torn ACL.
Instead, with Nijman at left tackle, Green Bay kicked Royce Newman out to the right side. Newman started 16 games for the Packers last year, and his spot up front was at right guard. With the revolving door on the line right now, though, the Packers moved him to right tackle to start camp, a position he played some in college at Mississippi State.
Newman is like many Packers offensive linemen who bounced around but excelled almost anywhere. In 2019, he started 12 games at left guard at Mississippi State. In 2020, Newman started 10 games at right tackle. With the Packers in his rookie season, he went back to guard but on the right side. His juggling act is impressive, but he’s far from the only Packers player doing it.
With Newman not at right guard to begin the summer festivities, the Packers went with Jake Hanson. The former Oregon lineman has played just seven career snaps since being drafted in 2020. Hanson started 49 games across four years in college, and every single start came at center. So, why not plug him in at right guard to begin training camp this year?
Many projected Hanson to make the roster this year. That may end up being the case — starting the first day of training camp with the ones on the offensive line bodes well for his chances. His apparent versatility will only help.
Cole Van Lanen worked with the first group in OTAs earlier this offseason and did so at right tackle. At the time, it offered a glimpse into what the Packers may have been thinking and could be planning until Jenkins returns. Instead, Van Lanen got work at right tackle again. But the second-year lineman out of Wisconsin worked with the second team fairly exclusively on Day 1.
Rookie Zach Tom joined Van Lanen on the second team. The Wake Forest product slotted in at left tackle, a position he’s very familiar with after starting 23 games there over the last two years in the ACC. He also started 13 games at center in college.
So, where does this leave the Packers at present?
The only two locks on the offensive line appear to be Jon Runyan at right guard and Josh Myers at center. Nijman at left tackle is also set for now. But as soon as Bakhtiari gets clearance, another domino will fall with another decision to be made. Green Bay could kick Nijman over to right tackle, thus moving Newman from tackle back to guard — or they could go a million other directions.
Not having Bakhtiari or Jenkins is a major blow. The pair are objectively Green Bay’s two best linemen. Quite the merry-go-round up front has emerged in their absences, though. It’s created some fascinating decisions for head coach Matt LaFleur and the rest of the staff.
Jenkins has been the torchbearer for showing that an offensive lineman can max out in the NFL at multiple positions up front. He has played phenomenally at guard, tackle, and center. There’s a case to be made that he could be at any spot once he returns. Green Bay is hoping that lightning strikes twice, and they can explore that avenue again. They have a plethora of candidates who fall into range with Newman, Hanson, Tom, and another rookie in Sean Rhyan.
When Jenkins went down last year with Bakhtiari still rehabbing, some negative thoughts crept into fans’ minds about what things would look like on the line moving ahead. That anxiety crept up again when Bakhtiari started training camp on the PUP list along with Jenkins after an offseason where Billy Turner left. Now, there’s optimism that the Packers will crack the right combination and put the pieces of the puzzle together. With great versatility comes a greater pool of options, and that’s what Green Bay has up front on its offensive line.