GREEN BAY – Jason Spriggs made 47 starts at Indiana University, stepping right in at left tackle during his freshman year in Bloomington. His 12 starts in 2012 remain a true-freshman record by a Hoosiers offensive lineman.
He knew things would be different in the NFL. Playing behind David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, Spriggs would need to stay patient in waiting for an opportunity to present itself on the Packers’ offensive line.
That moment arrived two weeks ago when the Packers slid Spriggs in at right tackle against Pittsburgh in the aftermath of Bulaga being placed on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury.
It’s a new language on the right side, but the 6-6, 301-pound lineman saw it as a chance to prove himself after a hamstring injury landed him on IR following the Packers’ regular-season opener against Seattle.
“It seems like it would be a seamless transition because it’s the same spot, generally, but it’d be like a right-handed person trying to write with their left hand,” Spriggs said. “You have to flip everything in your mind and physically. Left, you have a dominant leg and dominant arm. You switch sides and that completely changes. You have to learn how to account for those things.”
It took time for Spriggs to ease back in. Unable to practice for eight weeks, the last month has been a fast-paced introduction to right tackle for Spriggs, who showed progress in Sunday’s 26-20 overtime win over Tampa Bay.
While he’s the first to admit it hasn’t been flawless, Spriggs answered offensive line coach James Campen’s call for improvement in the run game in helping pave the way for a 199-yard day on the ground for the Packers’ offense.
“I think he’s finding his zone and he’s kind of getting into it as far as what we’re asking him to do on the right side,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “I think it’s showing up on the tape because you go back and look at how he was able to play (against Tampa Bay), he did some really good things for us. And he’s starting to come on.”
Ravaged by injuries on the offensive line for most of this season, all four of the Packers’ top tackles – Bakhtiari (ankle), Bulaga (knee/ankle), Spriggs and Kyle Murphy – missed extended time due to injury. Still, those rough waters have calmed over the past month.
If the lineup holds, this Sunday would be the first time the Packers have featured the same starting five on the offensive line in three consecutive contests this season. Comparatively, the Packers had the same starting five offensive linemen in 18 of 19 games during their run to the NFC Championship Game in 2014.
The Packers lost a big piece when Bulaga went down for the season on Nov. 6 against Detroit. Yet, Campen sees a bright future in the eighth-year tackle’s forecast. With Bulaga already having worked his way back from one major knee injury, Campen expressed optimism in his pupil’s ability to rebound from another.
At the same time, this final stretch is a golden opportunity for Spriggs to show what he can do. It’s the same path Bulaga, Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley and Lane Taylor traveled on their way to starting status.
“Anytime you get to practice everything from knowing you’re going to be the guy, it’s going to help him a lot and it helps the offense a lot, too,” Campen said. “You’re able to work together with Jahri (Evans) and those things. That’s always going to help. Familiarity is great.”
The Packers will see some of the toughest pass-rush units in the league over the next four games. Three of the league’s top 15 sack leaders – Everson Griffen, Mario Addison and Julius Peppers – are all on Green Bay’s December slate.
Whatever challenges are presented, Spriggs is focused on improvement and comfort with each and every rep at his new position.
“It’s building a platform,” Spriggs said. “Once you get that platform started, you’re able to grow. You’re not continually trying to get started and keep going. It’s nice to be able to have something steady you can build off of.”