GREEN BAY — The date, April 27, 2013, might not seem significant on the surface, but it certainly holds a lot of meaning to Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers’ offense.
It was on that day, the third and final day of the NFL Draft, that the Packers made a major investment in the future of their offensive line.
General Manager Ted Thompson took David Bakhtiari and JC Tretter within 13 picks of each other in the fourth round and later agreed to terms with Lane Taylor as a college free agent.
The Packers didn’t need any of the three linemen to play right away. At least, not at that time, but Thompson’s big-picture approach planted the seeds for what was to come.
More than three years later, that trio now represents the left side of the Packers’ offensive line. In fact, Green Bay is the only team in the league with three homegrown linemen from the same rookie class in the starting lineup, according to current NFL depth charts.
While each player took a different avenue to starting status, it didn’t take long for the Packers to realize all three could play.
“I think all three of those guys early on you could tell they belonged. They were deserving of the spots that they had,” right guard T.J. Lang said.
“It’s hard to sit back and watch and continue to try to motivate yourself to get better, but all three of those guys did an outstanding job of taking a step each and every year and they really deserved and really earned what they’ve got now and being starting players.”
The path was different for all three. Bakhtiari wound up starting immediately after Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury during training camp.
Tretter, who missed half of his rookie year with an ankle injury, was slated to follow Bakhtiari into the lineup as the Packers’ starting center in 2014 before injuring his knee in training camp.
So the job went to Corey Linsley, who started in each of the past two seasons before a recurring hamstring injury gave the position back to Tretter this summer.
Taylor endured the longest wait of the three as the backup to durable veteran guards Josh Sitton and Lang. While Taylor started only two games in his first three seasons, he saw plenty of first-team snaps in their place in practice.
The 6-foot-3, 324-pound guard was thrust into the starting job at the end of camp when the Packers parted ways with Sitton. Despite the initial questions, Taylor has fit right in on the offensive line.
“They’ve played well,” said Bakhtiari, who made his 50th regular-season start against the Giants. “We’ve always talked about how good of depth we have here on the Packers. We’ve been talking about it since 2014. The ability for these guys to get the opportunity and go out there and start, and perform – that’s huge not only for the team, but personally.”
The Packers’ starting five have played all but one offensive snap together through the first four games and finished a strong opening month of the season with its standout performance in Sunday’s 23-16 win over the New York Giants.
Bakhtiari and Bulaga neutralized the outside pressure from Giants’ pass-rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, while Lang, Tretter and Taylor kept massive tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins at bay.
That stability up front afforded Rodgers several opportunities to extend plays to find an open receiver or area to scramble. More importantly, he wasn’t sacked once on 47 drop-backs.
The line also helped pave the way for a 147-yard rushing performance, which was led by Eddie Lacy’s 81 yards on 11 carries.
“You could pick each one out and say a bunch of nice things about them, which I’ve done in the past, but I think as a whole they’ve played really well,” Rodgers said.
“They’ve done a good job of blocking against the run and they’ve limited the amount of sacks and pressures. It’s been nice having them be able to stay healthy and play well together. I think Lane has done a really nice job for us.”
Lang believes the best part of the performance was how nobody was talking about what the offensive line did right in the film review, but concentrated on where it can still improve.
That’s the mentality the unit has had since Taylor was plugged into the starting lineup leading up to the regular-season opener in Jacksonville.
As the weeks pass, everyone stands in agreement that it feels more like normal.
“Thinking back to the first week there, it was a little tough. It was just new to everybody,” Lang said. “But obviously that lasted about a day or two, (we) got to work and started to really work together as a unit in meetings, a lot of communication, a lot of talking. I think you see each week we keep taking a step. We still have a lot of work to do as a unit, but definitely like the way we’re progressing.”
The reason the Packers have been able to overcome Sitton’s departure and Linsley’s injury goes back to depth of the line, which the organization continued to invest in this summer in drafting Indiana’s Jason Spriggs and Stanford’s Kyle Murphy.
As Rodgers drops back, it was a wave of savvy personnel decisions back in 2013 that has helped ensure the franchise quarterback feels comfortable in the pocket.
“Certainly all three of them have worked very hard to get where they are today,” said offensive line coach James Campen of Bakhtiari, Tretter and Taylor. “They’re very good communicators. They take a lot of suggestions and put them to good use, and they’re great teammates. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re doing well.”