GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers understands there will be frustrating moments, snaps where the two young guys don’t do exactly what they’re supposed to do, mistakes that will short-circuit a potentially promising play— despite his best efforts to prevent them all.
“There are going to be some growing pains,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback acknowledged.
That’s just the reality when you’re starting not one but two rookie offensive linemen, like the Packers will do on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville. Second-round pick Josh Myers is set to start at center, and fourth-round pick Royce Newman is slated to start at one of the guard spots, presumably on the right side. While coach Matt LaFleur hasn’t officially shared the full starting lineup up front, he acknowledged that Myers and Newman will be side-by-side on Sunday.
And that means Rodgers, who has never kicked off a season with two rookie offensive linemen protecting him during his previous 13 years as the starter, will experience something that hasn’t happened in Green Bay since 2006. That’s when third-round pick Jason Spitz started at left guard and fifth-round pick Tony Moll started at right guard in front of Brett Favre in a 26-0 season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
A few weeks later, Favre had three rookies protecting him, as second-round pick Daryn College started at left tackle when veteran Chad Clifton came down with food poisoning. And by year’s end, College, Spitz and Moll had each started at least 10 games apiece.
That’s why, as soon as Newman shoved his way into the guard competition following the preseason opener against Houston, Rodgers ramped up his efforts to give training camp practices a greater game-day feel. And throughout the week of practice, and even in instructional walkthroughs, Rodgers has been trying to emphasize how different Sunday’s game will feel, even for one guy who played at Ohio State (Myers) and another who played in college football’s best conference, the SEC (Newman, at Ole Miss).
“The most important thing is to make all of the reps that we have in walkthroughs and practice game-like in nature. Obviously the tempo at certain times won’t be game-like, but the urgency and the decision-making and the rapid approach to their job is most important,” Rodgers said. “I need them to feel what it’s going to feel like on Sunday at 4:30 (Eastern time) when we’re in those situations.
“The swiftness of the adjustments, the strain of a play clock that’s down inside 5 (seconds). A lot of these situations that have come up throughout camp and this week, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are really good kind of dry runs for what it’s going to be on Sunday.”
How Myers and Newman will perform in such situations is difficult to predict. Third-year man Elgton Jenkins is set to start at left tackle as five-time All-Pro David Bakhtiari continues his comeback from a torn ACL in his left knee on the physically unable to perform list, while veteran Billy Turner will start at right tackle, his primary position. Veteran Lucas Patrick is expected to start at left guard, although LaFleur hasn’t officially said that Patrick staved off second-year man Jon Runyan for the job.
“I have not experienced two rookies, especially side-by-side like that, starting opening day,” LaFleur said. “But those guys, they’ve got a lot of good guys around them, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in their ability to go out there and perform at a high level. I’ve thought those guys have done an outstanding job of just kind of learning each and every day. But ultimately, they’ve got to go out there and do it.”
Asked if he and the offensive assistants altered their game-planning this week to account for so much inexperience up front, LaFleur replied, “Well, if the situation calls for that, certainly we’ll have a plan in place — if something goes wrong. But for the most part I think our game plan, it hasn’t affected anything up to this point.”
The 23-year-old Myers, tasked with replacing first-team All-Pro center and fellow Ohio State alum Corey Linsley following Linsley’s offseason departure for the Los Angeles Chargers, has carried himself like a veteran throughout his first NFL training camp, even when Rodgers’ frustration bubbled over during one late-in-camp practice when Myers didn’t snap the ball on time.
While Rodgers joked about Linsley complaining about the demanding quarterback taking it easy on the new kid before that practice blow-up, Myers wasn’t fazed by getting chewed out. When asked whether he prefers Rodgers’ gentler approach or tough-love approach, Myers replied, “I prefer the one that gets the job done the best. It doesn’t matter to me. If I need to do something better and he’s got to get on me, then that’s the way it is.”
Myers played 47 snaps in three exhibition games, snapping to backups Jordan Love and Kurt Benkert. He also dove into the playbook immediately after the draft knowing the expectation was for him to start immediately.
“For a while there it was like drinking out of a firehose for me. I was studying as much as humanly possible and trying to learn everything as fast as I could,” Myers said. “It’s been nice to have Royce there and for us to talk through it and work through things together. This whole thing has been a learning experience. We’ve had the benefit of going through that together, and it’s been good.”
The 24-year-old Newman, meanwhile, comes off as a free-spirited dude who is proud of his flowing mullet but got his coaches’ and teammates’ attention with his footwork early in camp.
“My first time seeing him take a snap, I saw his feet. He’s got great feet, and he’s got great recovery ability,” Jenkins said. “Being an offensive lineman, especially in pass protection, wanting to obviously protect ‘12,’ he’s got great feet — and if he does get beat, he can recover real fast. He’s got what some people don’t have, so I feel like he’s going to do great. I feel like he’s going to be an asset to the team.”
Newman got his shot after coaches were extremely unhappy with the guard play in the preseason opener and made a strong impression. Now, though, he’ll have to do it for real, as will Myers.
“They’re doing a really good job. They communicate really well. I give a lot of credit to Lucas Patrick and Billy, to Bahktiari being in there helping them. It’s a really tight group,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday. “For them to come into this situation here where we’re going on our third year in an offense, it allows them to progress much more because everybody is helping out. Everybody is helping out and talking. It’s about just getting the best five out there, and those guys have done a nice job.”
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Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
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