Offensive linemen are often overlooked by the more glamorous positions in the NFL, so I’m giving them a tip of the cap and starting my preview of the Green Bay Packers roster with the big men up front. Last season the Packers suffered numerous injuries across the line. They still managed to rank in the top half of the league in the 2017 offensive line rankings by Pro Football Focus, coming in at 13th. The injuries resulted in the Packers using 11 different starting offensive line combinations, with nine different players playing in multiple games. They should improve on that 13th ranking this season being healthier and boasting solid depth. Here is the current construction of the Green Bay offensive line.
RT Bryan Bulaga-
The biggest question mark on the offensive line is the timeline of Brian Bulaga’s return from injury. Whenever healthy, Bulaga has played at a high level. Unfortunately, since entering the NFL in 2010, he has missed time due to injuries in all but two seasons. Bulaga fought injuries throughout last season and ultimately suffered a torn ACL in November. A return to health early in the season and avoiding nagging injuries that have haunted him would be a huge boost for the Packers.
RG Justin McCray-
McCray performed admirably when forced into action last season, earning a spot in the starting lineup through grit and determination. He was an afterthought entering training camp last year but fought his way into a roster spot. He survived the trial by fire last year and now looks to be a key part of the offensive line going forward. Offensive line coach James Campen stated during the first week of OTA’s that “McCray put in the work during the offseason that shows where he wants to be, and last year’s performance is just the tip of the iceberg.” If that’s the case, then McCray will help solidify the right side of the line for the Packers this season.
C Corey Linsley-
Linsley was the lone Packers lineman to play in every game last year. His ability to read opposing defenses and communicate pre-snap blocking schemes are two big reasons for the Packers line withstanding all the injuries last year. Packers running backs posting an NFL best 2.04 yards before contact per carry in 2017. He was called for just two penalties and allowed one sack on the year. Linsley provides a solid foundation at the heart of the Packers offense heading into the 2018 season after being rewarded with a three-year extension last December.
LG Lane Taylor-
Left guard is one of the weaker spots on the line. There is nothing flashy about Lane Taylor. He grinds away and does an adequate job at the left guard position. He showed last season that he can fill in at tackle if needed. Playing between Linsley and LT David Bakhtiari hides his shortcomings. Taylor had offseason “clean-up” surgery and sat out OTA’s but is expected to be healthy in time for training camp.
LT David Bakhtiari-
The left tackle position is the strongest spot on the offensive line. David Bakhtiari has emerged as one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL. He was selected to the second-team All-Pro team last season for the second straight year. In both the passing and running game he has demonstrated elite ability, and at age 26 he is just now entering his prime.
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Byron Bell G/T-
Bell was signed this week to fill a key void as a rotational fill-in. That move further signifies the changes within the Packers front office. Gone are the days of Ted Thompson where the draft and develop philosophy was the only way to go. That resulted in raw young players forced into roles they weren’t necessarily ready for. New GM Brian Gutekunst has shown a willingness to plug holes with veteran players, with Bell being the latest example. He provides quality depth and insurance in case Bulaga cannot return early on this season.
Jason Spriggs T-
During OTA’s, Campen raved about Spriggs’ added size and strength after working hard over the offseason. The lack of strength has been the biggest knock on him since entering the NFL. He’ll have to prove the offseason work can result in improved consistency on the field. Spriggs and Bell are the top candidates to replace Bulaga if his injury lingers into the season.
Lucas Patrick G-
Patrick provides decent guard depth. He’s a young player with room to develop, something the Packers do well on a consistent basis. The Bell signing should allow Patrick to be brought along at a pace that will benefit both he and the Packers long term. He can fill in when needed, proved by the two starts made last season.
Cole Madison G-
The lone addition to the line via April’s draft, fifth-round draft pick Cole Madison projects as a swing reserve at the guard position. A year of growth and development lies ahead for Madison.
Etc…- The depth chart continues with tackles Kyle Murphy and Adam Pankey. They are battling for backup tackle positions. Murphy struggled in game action before getting injured last season. The backup center role is up for grabs behind Linsley. Free agent rookie Austin Davis and 26-year-old journeyman Dillon Day are in competition for that role. Kofi Amichia (guard), Alex Light (guard/tackle) and Kyle Meadows (tackle) round out the position group. They enter training camp hoping to be this year’s version of McCray.
Final Analysis- Led by Bakhtiari’s All-Pro caliber play and the cerebral leadership Linsley, the 2018 offensive line appears to be an area of strength for the Packers heading into training camp.