It hasn’t been unusual for the Green Bay Packers to see an immediate impact from rookie offensive linemen. For example, center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman were starters right away last season. This year, fourth-round lineman Zach Tom is emerging as a potential weapon. His ability to play multiple positions through the line is essential. He’s the type of player head coach Matt LaFleur likes, and the Packers have had many injuries among big men.
Tom has practiced as a left tackle in the first days of training camp, moving from the second to the first unit. The indications are he is a potential replacement if All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari isn’t ready for week 1. Bakh is still on the PUP list because of a knee injury he suffered in December 2020.
Curiously, Bakhtiari had his first chance in Green Bay because of an ACL injury. In his rookie season in 2013, he was expected to be a backup right tackle. But Bryan Bulaga tore his ligament, and No. 69 won the left tackle job, surpassing Marshall Newhouse. Don Barclay was the starting RT. When Bulaga returned in 2014, he was again lined up as the right tackle because Bakhtari had shown he was the best option.
Tom doesn’t need to be too good right away to be a contributor. Nor does he need to move Bakhtiari away from his spot. Tom was the starting center during his sophomore season at Wake Forest, then moved to left tackle for his final two years in college. According to PFF, Tom played 1,474 snaps as the left tackle and 1,156 at center. He is highly familiar with both spots. He also played 387 snaps on special teams, which was one of the themes during the Packers’ draft. NFL draft pundits also view him as a potential guard in the pros. Tom wants to be as versatile as possible.
“I want to be somebody who can play all five positions at a high level,” Tom said during rookie minicamp. “That’s the goal. That’s my main goal for the offseason, through camp. I want to be somebody who can go out there at any position, and you can rely on to perform at a high level.”
Zach Tom had practiced mostly at center during OTAs and minicamp. But now, he’s got all of his reps at left tackle in the first two days of training camp — something Green Bay’s offensive coaching staff had to do because of injuries along the line.
On Wednesday, the first unit was lined up with Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Jake Hanson, and Royce Newman. The Packers lined up Tom at left tackle with the second unit next to Michal Menet, Jake Hanson, Sean Rhyan, and Cole Van Lanen.
For the second day, the Packers promoted Tom to the first unit. But he also had snaps with the 2s, which means he got plenty of practice time and opportunity. The first unit on Thursday had Zach Tom, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Royce Newman, and Yosh Nijman. The second unit was the same as the previous day.
Tom believes his skill set is perfect for playing the Packers’ outside zone run schemes, a model that demands speed and acceleration from the offensive lineman.
“Movement skills are so important for O-linemen, especially in a zone run game, so being able to move is one of my strengths that I try to play off of,” Tom said after the draft. “Just trying to get those first two steps in the ground and put defensive linemen in a bad position and make them try to play catch up. I really try to focus on that.”
Tom’s versatility is especially important because he plays two positions where the Packers’ depth is relatively thin. While Green Bay’s roster has several guards, the tackle position is compromised while David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins recover from knee injuries. Currently, Nijman and Van Lanen are the only non-rookie primary tackles. Regarding the center position, former backup Lucas Patrick left the Packers in free agency to sign with the Chicago Bears, and Jake Hanson is the only alternative.
So far, third-round pick Sean Rhyan has practiced almost exclusively as a guard — he has been the second-unit right guard during every training camp practice. Seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker is primarily a tackle, but he started the camp on the PUP list, so his chances of making the 53-man roster are not great.
Zach Tom’s role has become more important, and he might be one of the most impactful Packers rookies in 2022.