The Green Bay Packers got some bad news Monday morning that confirmed the team’s worst fears: offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins suffered a torn ACL against the Vikings and will be lost for the rest of the 2021 season.
Jenkins is an incredibly valuable and important member of the Packers offensive line. In 2020, the former Mississippi State star made the Pro Bowl for his outstanding play at left guard. It was only his second season in the league but already, Jenkins had demonstrated his skill and versatility.
This season, with All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari on the PUP list, Jenkins moved over to left tackle. In eight games at the position, he played very well and was a key to the success of the Packers offensive line this season.
Although he was not playing his primary position, Jenkins was still playing at a Pro Bowl level for the Packers at left tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins had only allowed two sacks all season in 306 pass blocking snaps. That puts him near the top of the rankings according to PFF.
With Jenkins done for the season, the Packers are now missing three of the five starters they expected to have along their offensive line. Bakhtiari has yet to play this season and starting center Josh Myers has been out of the lineup since the Packers Week 6 win in Chicago.
Head coach Matt LaFleur was disappointed to lose Jenkins. “It’s unfortunate,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, Elgton’s been a big part of this team and still is a big part of this team, but he just won’t be out there with us.”
The Packers are still unsure when they’ll have Bakhtiari back or even if they’ll have him back this season. Bakhtiari practiced more in the week leading up to the Seahawks game than he did before the game in Minnesota this past Sunday.
LaFleur explained what’s keeping Bakhtiari from playing now. “It certainly isn’t for a lack of work ethic on his part,” the coach explained. “It’s just one of those things where you never quite know how everybody’s going to respond to the recovery process and I think that’s just where we are with him.”
With Jenkins out for the season and Bakhtiari still unavailable, the Packers will likely turn to third string left tackle Yosh Nijman. Nijman started three games for the Packers in Weeks 3-5 when Jenkins was out of action with an ankle injury. Those were the first three starts of Nijman’s career and he did a solid job for the Packers although he did require some help from tight ends and running backs to keep pass rushers at bay.
Nijman’s earlier season performance should give him more confidence this time around. “I think every time a guy goes out there and is able to perform at a high level, you just see their confidence build, and I think that is so important in this game,” LaFleur said.
The head coach remains high on Nijman’s potential. “Yosh has all the traits you look for in an offensive lineman. He’s big, he can bend, he’s strong, powerful, everything. It’s just about putting it all together on a consistent basis,” LaFleur said.
Right now, Jon Runyan, Jr. will continue to play left guard with Lucas Patrick playing center until Myers is ready to return. Like Bakhtiari, the Packers still haven’t announced any timetable for Myers’ return to action. Royce Newman will be the right guard and Billy Turner remains at right tackle. Newman and Turner would be the only opening day starters who remain in the lineup along the offensive line.
The injury will be present the Packers with a big challenge as this week’s opponents, the Los Angeles Rams, are adept at rushing the passer. Aaron Donald is considered by most observers to be the best interior defensive lineman in football and he has six sacks on the season. They also have a pair of talented edge rushers in Leonard Floyd who leads the team with 7.5 sacks and veteran Von Miller who was recently acquired at the trade deadline from the Broncos.
LaFleur will have to create a game plan that helps keep the pass rush away from Aaron Rodgers. That will likely include running the ball more often than normal and more short drop backs and quick rhythm passes. The Packers will also rely on Marcedes Lewis and the rest of their tight ends and running backs to assist Nijman with edge rushers coming off his side of the offensive line.
If the Packers can get through this Sunday’s game at Lambeau, they finally have their bye week. That may give players like Myers and Bakhtiari a chance to recover from their injuries.
One thing is certain. The challenges the 2021 Packers have faced because of injuries are far from over.
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