The Packers offensive line has had quite the season. Left tackle David Bakhtiari hasn’t played a snap after tearing his ACL in December of 2020, they lost rookie center Josh Myers to a knee injury early in the season, do-it-all lineman Elgton Jenkins who was replacing Bakhtiari tore his ACL, and now right tackle Billy Turner has also gone down with an injury. That leaves just one “preferred” starter at right guard in Royce Newman – and even he might not be starting if the Packers’ stable of offensive linemen were all healthy. Coming in to save the day are Lucas Patrick at center, Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan Jr. at left guard, and now Dennis Kelly at right tackle.
That’s a lot of shuffling upfront and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich has done a fantastic job developing and preparing whoever has had to step up. This week, that guy was Dennis Kelly. Kelly isn’t the fleetest of foot, but he has power, can anchor well, and is generally not a liability. Where he can struggle, is with fast edge rushers. That stresses his ability to get out of his stance and work in space. He had a couple reps where he struggled with speed rushes on Sunday against the Ravens.
Kelly plays with a good base and from that, comes good power. When he can get his hands on guys, he does a good job of staying in front of them and washing them out of the play. Against outside linebacker Justin Houston, Kelly plays patient, stays square, and doesn’t get too far up-field off the snap. As soon as Houston goes to engage, Kelly keeps his base and rides him inside.
If Kelly can get his hands on the defender early, he stands a really good chance of winning the rep. He continually refits, keeps his base, and stays in front.
Sometimes, his eagerness to get his hands on guys can burn him in pass protection. When he faced 9-techniques from the Ravens – usually an alignment that indicates a speed rush from the defensive end – he struggled to get out and stay in front of them. Since his feet aren’t the fastest, if you get him into space and separated from the interior line, he can have some problems. The sooner he can get hands on guys, the better. However, that also causes him to shoot his hands early at times. Against good speed rushers, that’s a bad combination. Here, Justin Houston is aligned in that wide-9 technique which gives him leverage outside and allows him to use his speed. Houston waits for Kelly to shoot his hands while keeping his own outside arm free. As soon as Kelly shoots, Houston uses that outside arm to disengage and get around the edge for the sack.
On the first 3rd down of the game, Kelly is again overeager with his hands. As soon as he reaches to engage, linebacker Tyus Bowser swims by him and gets the edge. If Rodgers didn’t get the ball out in rhythm, it’s an easy sack to start the game.
For his first start of the season, Kelly performed about how you would expect. The issue with speed rushes are a concern — he could see Myles Garrett this coming week and he allowed a sack and had an early false start. However, he soon settled in and while Kelly has only started in 30 games through his nine-year career, he brings experience and reliability to the position. He’s not Billy Turner or David Bakhtiari, but as the teams fourth (fifth if you count Jenkins) offensive tackle, he is very good. It’s another depth signing that is paying huge dividends for general manager Brian Gutekunst. Hopefully, Turner and Bakhtiari are able to return to the lineup sooner rather than later, but the Packers are in good hands with Kelly and Nijman until that day comes.