Other than Letroy Guion’s gaff with the law this week, the Packers players are presumably enjoying their relaxation without breaking the law. This player relaxation time is important to the team as once the end of July comes, there is no turning back and the football season begins. Last week, we talked about the running backs, today, I want to talk about the O-line.
We all know the importance of keeping Aaron Rodgers upright. The man is a holy terror to defenses but protecting him is paramount. One important piece of the protection unit is not a member of the O-line and that is Ty Montgomery. Ty will benefit from having an off-season to work on and get down the protections. This should yield better protection from the running back position and Montgomery is also a threat out of the backfield so there is the possibility of throwing over pressure.
The exit of TJ Lang did little to change Packer Nation’s feelings about the value of guards on our team. But this time around it was different. Thompson brought in Jahri Evans who while his performance has dropped off in recent years, has been a pro-bowler six times. Evans is a mauler and should help the run game. He may not be as good as Lang in pass protection, however so with the rest of the o-line still together, the question is “Will the Packers o-line take a step forward, remain the same, or take a step back?”
I think the run game may actually take a step forward, especially with Evans and the addition of Bennett and Kendricks. Richard Rodgers is a liability in the run game and could get Montgomery hurt. Bennett and Kendricks are another story. But the all-important passing game may take a slight step back. Most of the line is intact and Lane Taylor has had a great off-season so far so he should pick up where he left off. But Evans in particular is not as athletic as Lang was. I am not sure how long it takes for an NFL lineman to adjust to the amount of time Aaron Rodgers requires protection. I expect Evans to be serviceable but not great.
One solution could be to use crossing routes out of the two tight-end set to help get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands more quickly. I hope that the Packers go back to drilling getting the ball out in 2.5 seconds rather than holding it for seven. It is great that Rodgers can extend plays the way he can but the team may be better served by quick passes and precise routes. This also may extend drives and take time off the clock. The Packers have a gauntlet of high-powered offenses to run and clock management by shortening the routes and getting the ball out could be key.
The rest of the line being intact, the only real question is whether they can stay healthy. It is a brutal position in a collision sport and we can only hope. If Bakhtiari, Taylor, Evans, and Bulaga can stay healthy they should be able to build off the success of last year.
The biggest health question mark is Corey Linsley. The surgery he underwent was minor however and meant to clean up some problems with the foot and ankle. While the last thing the Packers can afford to do is hurry Linsley back, he should be ready for the season. Linsley is already on record saying that he feels better than he has in a year and a half and this should bode well for him during the season.
The presence of Don Barclay as depth on the line likely doesn’t make anyone in Packer Nation sleep better at night. While the coaching staff has high
praise for his versatility, the prospect of Barclay at starting center is not amusing. The addition of Kofi Amichia and presence of Kyle Murphy and Lucas Patrick should help and the team has a few UDFA’s that are making their bid as well. With only three or four backups behind the starters (total of 8 or 9) versatility does become a premium characteristic which is why Barclay still has a job.
All in all, the Packers o-line should be fine. There may be some growing pains with Evans, and even Ty and Bennett in pass protection but with Bulaga and Evans working together closely, they should be fine.
If the line can get back to their pass protecting ways of last year, the team should see improvements in both the run and the pass with the added running backs, the presence of blocking tight ends, and an Aaron Rodgers who is fit and lit. It may be that there is a little more “dialing in” needed out of the pre-season games than last year, but they should be able to get it done.