GREEN BAY – In a football career spanning more than a decade, Lane Taylor had played a single rep at tackle prior to Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.
And technically, it didn’t even count.
“Spring game, like my sophomore year, at right tackle and it was an interception or something,” said Taylor, an Oklahoma State alumnus. “It was like a keep (pass), so I didn’t even really do a pass set or anything.”
The only position Taylor had ever played was guard from his days at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas, to four years at Oklahoma State and the past four with the Packers.
So you could imagine Taylor’s surprise when Green Bay’s starting left guard reported to work Tuesday and was informed he’d likely be called upon at left tackle with two days’ notice.
“You’re going to tackle,” Taylor recalled the coaches telling him. “I said, ‘All right.’ I just drowned myself in tackle knowledge and watching film. I was still even watching the guard on film on accident when I was studying.”
With starting tackles Bryan Bulaga (ankle) and David Bakhtiari (hamstring) out, Green Bay turned to a makeshift line consisting of four natural guards (Taylor, Jahri Evans, Lucas Patrick and Justin McCray) and center Corey Linsley.
Along with it being Taylor’s first foray at left tackle, it marked Patrick’s first NFL start and only the second for McCray, who started for an injured Bulaga two weeks ago in Atlanta and then stepped in late last week against Cincinnati.
What could’ve spelled disaster turned into a bright spot for the Packers in their 35-14 win over the Bears. The offensive line provided a steady pocket for Rodgers, who was sacked on only two occasions en route to a season-best 128.0 passer rating.
The Packers also managed 90 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries to keep Chicago’s rushers at bay. It also helped Green Bay was able to score on its first offensive possession, driving down 75 yards on 10 plays prior to Davante Adams’ 5-yard touchdown catch.
“Personally, that was the biggest confidence-booster I could’ve had,” said Patrick, who spent all of his rookie season in 2016 on the Packers’ practice squad. “As an offense to meld with who we had up front and to really make a statement that it doesn’t matter which 11 are on what side of the ball, we’re going to come to play.”
Taylor was a catalyst to the plan working. An undrafted free agent in 2013, the 6-foot-3, 324-pound guard received pointers during practice Tuesday and Wednesday from Bakhtiari and Bulaga before taking his post against the Bears.
He also took it upon himself to help Patrick prepare for his first start at Taylor’s natural position, making for a busy two days of practice before Thursday night’s contest.
Chicago’s defense, which has many parallels to the Packers’ own zone-blitz scheme, managed two sacks in the first half but otherwise wasn’t able to capitalize on the Packers’ pair of converted guards working outside.
“It’s a high level of difficulty. It’s something I know I can’t do,” said Evans, a six-time Pro Bowl right guard. “It’s a different body type out there. You’re facing a different rusher. You’re facing a guy who is fast and uses a lot of hands to get a working edge, where inside you’re facing powerful big guys and it happens now. Outside, you have to take a couple kicks and the angles are different, but Lane did a good job.”
Bakhtiari commended Taylor for his effort, ability and determination in making the conversion on short notice. While it remains to be seen when Green Bay will have its All-Pro left tackle back on the field, the team learned it can count on Taylor and Co. if needed in case of emergency.
Or maybe they don’t even need the tackles.
“It’s a revolution. You don’t need tackles. All you need is four guards,” joked Taylor with a smile. “We just got after it. With (position coach James Campen’s) drills that he makes us do, I think really allows us to make that transition smoother because he really presses pass protection. We have to do a lot of things. You can use your individual time to really figure out how to play tackle.”
The Packers lost both starting running back Ty Montgomery (chest) and Jamaal Williams (knee) during the first half, which resulted in rookie fifth-round pick Aaron Jones seeing his first action in the backfield. Next rookie up:
Like he did throughout most of training camp, Jones showed the natural burst and explosiveness that got him on the Packers’ radar after a record-breaking run at Texas-El Paso.
Jones led Green Bay with 49 yards on 13 carries, including his first NFL touchdown on a 2-yard carry that gave Green Bay a 21-0 lead with 4:48 left in the second quarter.
“I was a little nervous but I had been waiting for the call,” Jones said. “As soon as Coach was like, ‘You’re going,’ I was excited to go out there.”
Weather delay: The Packers and Bears were forced to go back to the locker room for 46 minutes after lightning was spotted in the area at the end of the first quarter.
It was the first time Packers safety Morgan Burnett had been part of a delay since a storm delayed a game between Georgia Tech and Florida State during his junior year in 2009.
“Our strength and conditioning staff made sure we had the foam rollers and stretched, and did what we need to do before we went out there,” Burnett said. “Guys’ adrenaline was still rushing and I know me, I was anxious to get back out there. I was watching the clock and when they kept coming back and said we have 10 more minutes, come on, I’m ready to go.”
Snappy start: New Packers long snapper Taybor Pepper arrived early at Lambeau Field Thursday in preparation for his first NFL regular-season action.
Signed Monday to replace injured veteran Brett Goode (hamstring), Pepper showed no signs of nerves in snapping all five of kicker Mason Crosby’s extra points and all five of Justin Vogel’s punts in a clean debut for the trio of specialists.
“I think everybody, Mason included, knew that we just had to try and gel as quickly as possible,” Pepper said. “I felt like it went pretty well. There was one slightly high field-goal snap, but Vogel easily snagged it. The rest of them I felt awesome. Being a young guy, teams were going to target me on punts. We game-planned for it, my guards helped me a little bit, but ultimately I felt like I did well in protection.”
Vogel had his best statistical outing of his short NFL career, booting five punts for a net average of 46.2 yards.
As promised, Packers players, coaches and staff stood together and linked their arms along their sideline during the pregame singing of the national anthem. A time for unity:
During the week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight end Martellus Bennett and Head Coach Mike McCarthy invited fans to join the team to promote unity and importance of community.
“The messaging of this unfortunately needs to continue to be redirected, I think. It’s never been about the national anthem, it’s never been about the military,” Rodgers said. “We’re all patriotic in the locker room, we love our troops. This is about something bigger than that – an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country. And I’m proud of our guys. This has been a galvanizing situation for us.”
Receiver Jordy Nelson said the past couple weeks have been educational for him, getting to learn things about his teammates and “opening his eyes” to certain aspects of daily life he never saw growing up in rural Kansas.
The Packers hope the sign of unity helps generate conversation amongst the sold-out crowd of more than 78,000, who cheered loudly with chants of “U.S.A.” as an American flag was unfurled at midfield prior to the performance.
“The fact we were locking arms together shows our brotherhood and how we’re sticking together regardless of the outside noise,” Evans said. “The fans chanting ‘U.S.A.’ was awesome, too. We love this country and we love our military, and we’re here for one another. We go out there and practice and play for one another. It was a good message.”
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