Pack­ers dis­cover depth on of­fen­sive line

Packer Plus - - Analysis - TOM SIL­VER­STEIN MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL Send email to tom.sil­ver­stein@jrn.com

Green Bay — When Josh Sit­ton was forced to play left tackle for a win­ner-take-all divi­sion show­down with the Min­nesota Vik­ings in 2015, the guy who re­placed him at left guard was Lane Tay­lor.

So, when Tay­lor walked into a Green Bay Pack­ers meet­ing room last week Tues­day and of­fen­sive line coach James Cam­pen told him he was go­ing to start at left tackle two days later, Tay­lor shouldn’t have been sur­prised.

The Pack­ers don’t pi­geon­hole their of­fen­sive line­men, even though it would be eas­ier to teach them one po­si­tion when they walk through the door for the first time. They force their line­men to train at mul­ti­ple po­si­tions and some­times make them play at po­si­tions they’ve never played be­fore.

Tay­lor had trained at both guard po­si­tions but had not worked at tackle.

“I think I had one rep dur­ing the spring game of my sopho­more year, at right tackle,” Tay­lor said, re­call­ing the last time he had played tackle. “I didn’t even do a pass set or any­thing.”

It didn’t mat­ter to Cam­pen, who go­ing into a divi­sion show­down with the Chicago Bears was miss­ing all five of his tack­les due to a rash of in­juries.

He al­ready was play­ing with guard/cen­ter Justin McCray at right tackle in place of Bryan Bu­laga (an­kle), so why not give Tay­lor a shot at left tackle?

And for good mea­sure, why not go with a fourth guard, Lu­cas Pa­trick, even though it would be the sec­ond-year pro’s first plays from scrim­mage?

When the night was through, all 3 hours 52 min­utes of it — in­clud­ing a 46-minute weather de­lay — the Pack­ers had im­proved their record to 3-1 with a 35-14 vic­tory ac­com­plished with four guards on their of­fen­sive line.

“We came into the sea­son with tech­ni­cally five tack­les. All five tack­les are hurt,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari, who missed a third straight game but was hope­ful of re­turn­ing in 10 days for Dal­las. “You go into the sea­son with a po­si­tion that’s your strength and next thing you know you have your left guard play­ing left tackle do­ing a phe­nom­e­nal job with it.”

Three of the tack­les — Kyle Mur­phy (foot), Ja­son Spriggs (ham­string) and Don Bar­clay (an­kle) are on in­jured re­served — so there lit­er­ally are no backup tack­les avail­able.

McCray was acutely aware of that af­ter start­ing for Bu­laga in Week 2 and re­plac­ing him in the fourth quar­ter of Week 3. And Tay­lor was smacked on the fore­head with it when he came to work ex­pect­ing to pre­pare for an­other start at left guard.

“I said, ‘All right,’ ” Tay­lor replied when asked how he re­acted. “So I just drowned my­self in tackle knowl­edge and watch­ing film and ev­ery­thing. I was still even watch­ing the guard on film by ac­ci­dent when I was study­ing.

“I got a cou­ple non-padded reps on Satur­day (ac­tu­ally Wed­nes­day). I had Clay (Matthews) go kind of hard at me and (Chris) Odom. That’s all I re­ally did.”

All Tay­lor did last Thurs­day night was help quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers (18 of 26 for 169 yards and four touch­downs) stay up­right most of the game and the backs rush for a sea­son­high 92 yards on 23 car­ries (3.8 avg.). Rodgers was only knocked to the ground twice — both on sacks — and had to do only a fair amount of run­ning out­side the pocket.

Nei­ther sack came through Tay­lor, which was more than Sit­ton could say two years ago when he had to make an emer­gency start.

“I think I did all right,” said Tay­lor, who signed a three-year, $16.5 mil­lion ex­ten­sion right be­fore the reg­u­lar-sea­son started. “I didn’t get Aaron hit, so that’s good. I didn’t give up any sacks. “I’ll take it.” Coach Mike McCarthy will, too. And not only that, but Pat- rick’s per­for­mance as well.

To be clear, it wasn’t as if the Pack­ers moved the ball up and down the field against the Bears. Rather than put his tack­les on is­lands and force them to take on pass rush­ers Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Wil­lie Young and Per­nell McPhee, McCarthy sur­rounded his “tack­les” with tight ends, lim­ited deep quar­ter­back drops and ran the ball when­ever he could.

He did noth­ing that would ex­pose Rodgers for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time and counted on his de­fense to keep the Bears in check.

“I think we built a good game plan,” Bakhtiari said. “We were able to play to our strengths and we were able to ex­e­cute it. My hats off to them. That’s awe­some.”

When the Pack­ers kept McCray and Pa­trick on the 53man ros­ter af­ter train­ing camp, many peo­ple ques­tioned whether they were ca­pa­ble of fill­ing in for cen­ter Corey Linsley if he were hurt. No one was count­ing on them start­ing to­gether in a key di­vi­sional game in Week 4.

Since nei­ther had taken a snap in an NFL game, they were con­sid­ered long shots to even make an ap­pear­ance this sea­son, es­pe­cially given the good health of the of­fen­sive line last sea­son. But the Pack­ers don’t do the de­vel­op­men­tal thing.

Even though they keep a lot of young play­ers on their ros­ter, they ex­pect them to main­tain the standard of play if they have to re­place a starter. It’s a tall or­der for two play­ers who weren’t drafted com­ing out of col­lege and might not have made the ros­ter had Bar­clay not got­ten hurt in train­ing camp.

“That’s what they tell you, when you’re on the ros­ter you’re ex­pected to be ready to play,” McCray said. “No ex­cuses. Wher­ever you’re told to play at, you have to play.”

Per­haps the best part of what the Pack­ers’ of­fen­sive line ac­com­plished, other than be­ing on the win­ning side, is that Tay­lor proved he could play left tackle if they ever need him again and McCray and Pa­trick re­ceived snaps they would never have been able to repli­cate in prac­tice.

Nei­ther McCray nor Pa­trick is who you would want to an­chor your of­fen­sive line the en­tire sea­son, but they were ser­vice­able and did enough to help the Pack­ers es­cape a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion.

They are a prod­uct of Cam­pen’s in­sis­tence that they learn mul­ti­ple po­si­tions and they now have NFL ex­pe­ri­ence on their ré­sumés, which was not the case four weeks ago.

“I think we just know that Lane can play left tackle if we need it and Lu­cas can play left guard if we need,” Rodgers said. “Ob­vi­ously, we’d love to get Bryan and David back at some point, but we stand here today feel­ing like we have more depth and more con­fi­dence in those guys than we did yes­ter­day.

“So, I’m re­ally proud of those guys.”

JIM MATTHEWS / USA TODAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers ges­tures dur­ing a play last Thurs­day against the Bears. Green Bay’s of­fen­sive line, miss­ing its start­ing tack­les, helped pave the way for a 35-14 vic­tory.

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