This is the fourth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series continues with the offensive line.
GREEN BAY – The Packers know their starting five on the offensive line for 2017.
Then again, it was thought to be known last year at this time as well, and it changed at the final roster cutdown.
Barring another last-minute bombshell, though, the Packers are set with Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari at the tackle spots, free-agent signee Jahri Evans and Lane Taylor at the guards, and Corey Linsley at center.
Bakhtiari made his first Pro Bowl in 2016 after signing a big contract extension, and the fifth-year left tackle has accepted the additional leadership responsibilities that have come with the departures of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang over the last 11 months.
That said, Bakhtiari has deferred to Bulaga as the true leader of the room, and Bakhtiari isn’t the only teammate to believe Bulaga is playing at a Pro Bowl level at right tackle as the former first-round pick enters his eighth season.
After 11 years with the Saints, which included five All-Pro selections and a Super Bowl title, Evans found exactly what he wanted in free agency – another chance to win and block for a future Hall of Fame quarterback. He immediately steps in at right guard for Lang, who returned to his home state to play for Detroit.
Taylor was the story of Week 1 last year upon Sitton’s release but became the biggest non-story of the season with his steady, reliable play at left guard. Consistency and dedication are two traits frequently discussed when Taylor’s name is mentioned.
Linsley was the only one of the starters to miss significant time during the offseason program. He sat out all of OTAs and minicamp recovering from ankle surgery, a lingering malady that’s believed to have contributed to the hamstring problem that cost Linsley the first half of 2016.
If his health issues are indeed behind him, Linsley will be looking to establish himself as the Packers’ center of the future in a contract year.
As for the unit’s depth, it starts with veteran Don Barclay, who can play any position but appears to be settling in as a top backup at any of the three inside spots. Barclay likely would have been the front-runner for the starting right guard job if Evans hadn’t been acquired.
The other right guard candidates would have been 2016 sixth-round draft pick Kyle Murphy and practice-squad holdover Lucas Patrick. Murphy is viewed as a prospect at both guard and tackle, his college position at Stanford, and the push for versatility is nothing new with how the Packers develop their young linemen.
Murphy’s draft mate, 2016 second-round pick Jason Spriggs, started two games in a pinch at guard a year ago but is being tagged as the swing tackle, backing up both Bakhtiari and Bulaga.
The Packers added one offensive lineman in the draft, Kofi Amichia of South Florida, in the sixth round. Amichia started the last two seasons at left tackle, but the Packers are listing him as a guard and he also took some reps at center during spring workouts.
Amongst the other candidates battling for roster spots, guard Justin McCray entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014 but did not make Tennessee’s roster and has since played in the Arena Football League.
This year’s undrafted rookies include tackle Robert Leff of Auburn, guard/tackle Adam Pankey of West Virginia, and guards Geoff Gray from the University of Manitoba and Thomas Evans from Richmond. Gray, a native of Winnipeg, was selected eighth overall in the Canadian Football League draft in May.
COUNTDOWN TO CAMP ROSTER SERIES
QBs: All four have goals in mind
RBs: Competition with five rookies behind Ty Montgomery
WRs: After top three, competition will be fierce