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Packers vs. Saints Matchups: New-look offensive line faces tough early test

Can Green Bay’s offensive line hold up on Sunday against the Saints with two rookies and no David Bakhtiari?

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The Green Bay Packers are hoping to have the league’s highest-scoring offense for the second straight season in 2021. There are a number of reasons for Packers fans to be optimistic about that goal, but success on offense will largely depend on a new-look offensive line that will have some big questions to answer in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints.

Aaron Rodgers is coming off of a season in which he was sacked just 20 times, the fewest in his NFL career as a full-time starter. However, Green Bay’s offensive line will look significantly different on Sunday.

Starting center Corey Linsley departed this offseason in free agency, while star left tackle David Bakhtiari will miss the first six weeks of 2021 after being placed on the PUP list while he recovers from a torn ACL.

The Packers released their first unofficial depth chart of the season earlier this week with an offensive line that looks significantly different than it did last year. Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins will be moving to left tackle, presumably until Bakhtiari returns, while rookies Josh Myers and Royce Newman are expected to start at center and right guard respectively. Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner are slated to play at familiar positions, slotted in at left guard and right tackle.

That new-look offensive line will have to prove itself immediately to start the year, playing against a strong front seven for the New Orleans Saints. The Saints were eighth in the NFL with 45 sacks last year, pressuring quarterbacks on 26.3% of dropbacks. Their defense also allowed just 1,502 rushing yards in 2020, the fourth fewest in the league.

Despite playing away from his usual position, Jenkins will likely be the most reliable lineman for the Packers on Sunday. The 25-year-old has registered a snap at all five positions on the offensive line, and has reportedly impressed at left tackle in training camp.

Versatility has never been an issue for Jenkins, who logged five career starts at left tackle in college at Mississippi State.

While Jenkins looks to prove himself at left tackle, eyes will also be on the interior of the line with Myers and Newman. It will be the first time since 2006 that the Packers will be starting two rookies on the offensive line.

Myers comes into his first NFL start with big shoes to fill, replacing a first-team All-Pro at center. The Packers are expecting big things right away from their second-round pick, who flashed at times during the preseason. Perhaps his biggest highlight came against the Houston Texans, finding work in open space to set up a Kylin Hill touchdown off of a screen pass.

That doesn’t mean that things have been perfect for Myers. Rodgers has started to expect more of Myers as Week 1 has approached, and has also noted that he expects some growing pains from the rookie at the start of the year. The future Hall of Fame quarterback is also hoping that Myers doesn’t have any more plays like he had on a Jordan Love interception against the Buffalo Bills this preseason.

While Myers was the de facto starter at center the moment he was drafted, Newman’s emergence as a starter has been more surprising. The fourth-round pick had an uphill battle to prove himself against other guards in camp like Jon Runyan and Ben Braden.

Newman stepped up to the challenge, however, showing some impressive ability in pass protection while paving the way for his running backs. Pro Football Focus had him as the highest-graded rookie for the Packers this preseason. Brandon Carwile of Packers Wire did a great job breaking down what made Newman look like a starting-caliber guard with some good clips of his work this preseason.

The rookies will be worth monitoring on Sunday, but their jobs might be a little easier with Saints star defensive tackle David Onyemata suspended for the first six games of 2021. That has the Saints listing former Packers defensive tackle Christian Ringo as a starter on this week’s depth chart. If that holds, Ringo would start a game for the first time in his career and play in a game in any capacity for the first time since the 2018 season.

The biggest matchup of the week will be on the right side of the offensive line, with Billy Turner being tasked with slowing down Cameron Jordan. Jordan has been one of the more consistent pass-rushing threats in the NFL over the past decade. Along with six Pro Bowl selections and a first-team All-Pro nod in 2017, Jordan has racked up 94.5 sacks over his career, including 7.5 in 2020.

Turner may not be a true star on the offensive line, but he has been decent in two seasons with the Packers. He seemed to settle into his role primarily at tackle last season, allowing just two sacks all year. Right guard seemed to be a more natural position for him on film, so he’ll need to be ready for a tough test going one-on-one against a veteran pass rusher like Jordan on the edge.

With so many moving pieces and a pair of rookies on the line, Lucas Patrick will need to step up as a veteran presence for the unit as well. The 28-year-old has played in 56 games for the Packers since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2016, and while he has struggled at times, fans will be hoping a solid preseason will give the veteran the confidence to hold his own at left guard.

The Packers have a real chance to hold their own while Bakhtiari gets healthy. However, that optimism also comes with a lot of uncertainty. Can Jenkins show that he can be just as effective at tackle as he’s been at guard? Will Myers and Newman minimize their rookie mistakes right out of the gate? Can Turner and Patrick be the best versions of themselves and be veteran leaders for the young guys?

Despite the uncertainty on the offensive line, the Packers still have a Hall of Fame quarterback to make the necessary adjustments, and a plethora of weapons to keep driving the ball down the field.

Week 1 will be a great opportunity for Green Bay’s offensive line to prove itself against a solid opponent. If they can stand their ground, then the offense should be able to pick up right where it left off.