The Green Bay Packers had the NFL’s top scoring offense in 2020, averaging nearly 32-points per game. This year, 10 of the 11 starters are returning so it appears all the ingredients are there for another strong season where the team should be near the top of the league in points scored.
All the starting skill position players are back. Quarterback and reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers is back and has another chip on his shoulder as he tries to prove his critics wrong again. The Packers have a Pro Bowl running back in Aaron Jones, arguably the league’s top wide receiver in Davante Adams and a tight end who deserved to go to the Pro Bowl last year in Robert Tonyan.
The biggest unknown facing the offense heading into the 2021 campaign is the offensive line. Center Corey Linsley is the only starter who is not returning. All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari will miss at least the first six games of the season as he completes his rehab from the season-ending knee injury he suffered in December.
As a result of Linsley’s departure and Bakhtiari’s absence, the coaching staff has juggled the lineup and two rookies will be starters in Week 1 as the Packers head to Jacksonville to face the New Orleans Saints.
The biggest change is that Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins will be moved to left tackle until Bakhtiari is ready to return. Jenkins is a versatile player who can play effectively anywhere along the offensive line. He will be tasked with protecting Rodgers’ blind side early in the season. Expect opposing defenses to put Jenkins to the test with stunts, blitzes and other maneuvers designed to create confusion and pressure. The move to tackle will be a chance for Jenkins to audition there and see if his long term future is at tackle or if he should stay on the interior of the line.
With Jenkins moving to tackle, Lucas Patrick, who played right guard last year after Lane Taylor was lost for the season in Week 1, will be moved to left guard. Patrick is tough and strong. He has graded out as a better run blocker than pass blocker. He will need to do a consistent job of protecting Rodgers and should help the team run effectively to the left side. The Packers know what Patrick can do and hope his experience and tenacity pay off.
With Linsley now with the Chargers, the Packers selected Josh Myers out of Ohio State in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Myers will be responsible for calling the signals for the offensive line, no easy task for a rookie. He has a great attitude and is eager to learn, but in the preseason, he did make his share of rookie mistakes. The Packers are counting on Myers to provide consistency as he adjusts to the NFL game.
Royce Newman won the starting job at right guard, giving the Packers two rookie starters in the middle of the offensive line. Newman had a strong training camp and graded out as the Packers top offensive lineman in the preseason according to Pro Football Focus.
Newman is a better run blocker than pass blocker at this stage of his career although he didn’t allow a pressure in preseason. Of course, except for the first half against Buffalo, he wasn’t facing starting defensive linemen often in the preseason either.
Newman is adept at blocking in space and getting to the second level on screens and sweeps. He still needs some work on hand placement in pass protection but does appear to be improving in this area.
Veteran Billy Turner returns at right tackle. Turner is versatile, smart and a leader in the Green Bay locker room. He can play either tackle or guard although he is better suited to playing the right side than the left as the Packers found out in the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay last January. Turner is a solid starter who adds experience, leadership and cohesiveness to the offensive line.
The key to keeping the offense performing at a high level is to keep Rodgers healthy and to give him enough time to work his magic. Obviously, opening holes for the running game is also critical in this offense.
Can this group hold down the fort until Bakhtiari returns? Are the two rookies ready to start in the NFL? Is Patrick the answer at left guard? These are some of the biggest questions facing the Packers offense before the start of the 2021 campaign.
If the revamped offensive line continues to play well this season, there is no reason the offense shouldn’t continue to be one of the league’s best. But if they struggle and falter, the Packers offense may regress and that will be reflected in the team’s record at the end of the season.
You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers