GREEN BAY – Last year at this time, Lane Taylor had no idea what was coming.
He had played a ton of preseason snaps with the Packers’ No. 2 offensive line. He was preparing for another extended outing in the final preseason game to solidify his roster spot for a fourth straight year, not that it was in a ton of jeopardy after re-signing with Green Bay as a restricted free agent.
But Taylor couldn’t have predicted he was about to become the Packers’ starting left guard in Week 1, following the surprise release of veteran Josh Sitton.
Fast forward a year and it’s been a whole new type of preseason for Taylor.
“Being the starter is obviously a lot different,” Taylor said on Monday. “You’re preparing for something, not just scraping to get the roster spot. I’m glad where I’m at and I appreciate it.”
Not so much that he’s taken anything for granted, though. Repeatedly praised by Head Coach Mike McCarthy for his professional approach and the strides he’s made already in 2017, Taylor never rested on last year’s promotion to the starting lineup.
It was a move many on the outside questioned, particularly after Taylor was flagged for multiple penalties in the preseason. But the coaches’ film review indicated the flags were questionable at best, and they were confident in Taylor from the get-go.
He rewarded their faith with a solid 2016 season and a still-hungry attitude this year. He’s building on what he started.
“I believe I’ve got to earn my spot,” he said. “Just because I came in as a starter this year doesn’t mean it’s going to be handed to me. I have to work for my spot, each and every year. It doesn’t matter how long I’m here, I’m always going to battle.”
Taylor’s battles on the practice field with star defensive tackle Mike Daniels have been fun to watch. They’re gone head-up in the one-on-one pass protection drill several times, and Taylor has enjoyed the upper hand on Daniels this year.
That’s a change from years past, and Taylor credits the daily challenges from Daniels for helping put him in his current position. Daniels’ powerful and successful bull-rushes from last Saturday’s Denver game are a testament to just how good Taylor’s become.
“He’s a good competitor, and he’s made me grow as an athlete and as a player,” Taylor said. “He definitely got the best of my earlier in my years.”
A week like this will always bring back memories for Taylor. Back in 2013, he was an undrafted prospect hoping to latch on, and he remembers being “unbelievably nervous” on roster cut-down day, checking his phone constantly.
As the Packers continue to sort out their offensive line depth with one preseason game remaining, Taylor knows exactly what a lot of young players in his position group are going through.
“It’s stressful, because the cut’s right around the corner, and you want to leave a good impression, play as well as you can,” Taylor said. “They know all they have to do is play and let the chips fall where they fall.”
If history holds, the starting offensive line won’t be playing in Thursday’s preseason finale, so their in-game work to prepare for the regular season is done.
The change to veteran Jahri Evans at right guard appears to have gone rather smoothly, and the only health issue with the first unit has been right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s ankle injury, which kept him out of last Saturday’s game in Denver.
“I feel good where we’re at,” Taylor said of the starting line. “We’ve all been healthy, other than Bryan’s ankle he just got, but luckily it’s just an ankle, so he’ll be back soon. It’s good we’ve been getting reps together.”
Taylor felt the first unit corrected some issues in the running game from the preseason trip to Washington, and it showed on Ty Montgomery’s early 25-yard run against the Broncos. Taylor was a pulling guard on that play, throwing a key block.
“I think we’re ready,” Taylor said. “We got a good play count in.
“We’ve really ironed through all the wrinkles we can iron through, and we’re looking forward to the season.”