Continuity is important for all NFL teams and especially important during this strange 2020 season which has no preseason games, OTAs or minicamps and reduced training camp reps. The Green Bay Packers have more continuity than most teams, with nine starters returning on offense and nine on defense from 2019.
But one area of uncertainty is along the right side of the Green Bay offensive line where three experienced players are battling for two starting positions. They are returning starting right guard Billy Turner, former starting left guard Lane Taylor and newly signed free agent right tackle Rick Wagner.
The departure of free agent Bryan Bulaga opened a void at right tackle. Bulaga had manned the position since his rookie season back in 2010. Now, he is playing for the Los Angeles Chargers and the right tackle position is wide open.
Head coach Matt LaFleur told the media during a recent conference call that the competition will remain wide open for the foreseeable future. “We’re going to keep shuffling that line along until we feel good about it and know that we’re headed in a certain direction,” LaFleur said. “At least for the next couple of weeks, it’s definitely going to be a competition each and every day.”
The three players battling are all veterans with extensive starting experience. Wagner has been a starter at right tackle for the last six seasons with Baltimore and then Detroit. The Packers signed the former University of Wisconsin star to a two-year, $11 million deal.
Wagner was considered a top free agent when he signed with the Lions prior to the 2017 season, but he never played up to the five-year, $47.5 million contract. Detroit let him go after three seasons.
The Packers are hoping that the West Allis, Wisconsin, native will be inspired by his return to his home state and by playing on a contending team. Wagner had his struggles in recent seasons with elite pass rushers and the Packers cannot afford to have Rodgers under constant pressure.
Turner started all 16 games for the Packers last year at right guard. He also played tackle occasionally during his previous NFL stops in Miami and Denver. Turner was responsible for giving up more quarterback pressures than any other Packers offensive lineman last season. His play improved later in the season and his run blocking was solid.
Turner was also a positive influence in the locker room and emerged as a leader on the team by the end of the season. The Packers need to see him play better over the course of the season to have him secure a starting job.
Taylor was the Packers starting left guard for three seasons between 2016 and 2018 and provided the team with a consistent performance at the position. He edged out rookie Elgton Jenkins for the starting position last year but was injured in the Packers Week 2 game against Minnesota and missed the rest of the season as a result.
During the offseason, Taylor was considered a candidate to be released to clear up cap space, but he agreed to take a pay cut prior to camp to remain with the Packers. Now, Taylor is battling with Turner for the starting right guard position.
The Packers had used two primary lineups on the right side of the offensive line during the first few days of training camp. The first featured Taylor at right guard and Turner at right tackle. The second lineup had Turner at right guard and Wagner at right tackle.
As of now, there is no indication as to whether the lineups have any significance regarding who is considered the favorite to start along the right side of the line. Wagner is the likely starter at right tackle, but he may not be getting first-team reps yet because of his lack of experience in LaFleur’s system. The next few weeks at practice will determine who earns the starting jobs at right guard and right tackle.
Rodgers told reporters he has confidence in the team’s depth along the offensive line. “I think we have a good dilemma when you’ve got so many guys who can play and have started games in the NFL,” the quarterback said. “There’s a lot of camp to go, a lot of time until our first game, but the urgency is definitely there when it comes to making sure we get on the same page and get position battles figured out in the next two or three weeks.”
It will be vital for the Packers to choose starters and create as much continuity as they can along the right side of the offensive line. The left side, featuring Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari, Jenkins at guard and Corey Linsley at center, is among the best in the league.
The right side must perform well for the Green Bay offense to make that hoped for jump in year two of LaFleur’s tenure.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage
Visit my Web site for all things Gil Martin