GREEN BAY – Lane Taylor will start at left guard for the Packers in Jacksonville, Head Coach Mike McCarthy announced on Monday.
With the surprising release of Josh Sitton on Saturday, the Packers need a new starter at left guard, and it’ll be Taylor, the fourth-year pro who originally joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2013.
McCarthy pronounced Taylor “ready” and “prepared” for his first Week 1 starting assignment, after getting his inaugural NFL starts last season in spot duty.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Lane,” McCarthy said. “He’s earned this opportunity. I think he’s done a very good job, particularly in the run-blocking phase of his game. There are some things he needs game experience at, but that’s part of the leap when you make changes. With that, it’s an opportunity to grow.”
Taylor was penalized three times in the Packers’ preseason finale last week in Kansas City, including twice for holding, but McCarthy did not necessarily believe all the flags were warranted.
“It’s preseason for the officials, too,” McCarthy said. “I’m very confident in how he played in that game. I thought he was physical and did a lot of good things, and he did some things he needs to improve on.”
As for the unexpected release of Sitton, a three-time Pro Bowler who signed as a free agent with Chicago on Sunday, McCarthy suggested there were multiple layers behind it. He didn’t address specifically whether it was related to Sitton’s performance, his contract, or the team’s salary cap.
The fact that two other offensive linemen at different positions – left tackle David Bakhtiari and new starting center JC Tretter – are also heading into the final years of their contracts, like Sitton was and right guard T.J. Lang is, appears to have been a factor.
“There’s a lot of things that go into this decision,” McCarthy said. “This was not just one thing. With that, it was tough.
“I believe there are positions in football that are primary positions and some positions that are not to that level. There are some positions you put in front of the others.”
Whether or not the Packers will be a better team without Sitton remains to be seen.
“To sit there and say are you a better team or not a better team because of one player, we haven’t played a game yet,” McCarthy said. “This is about growth for our football program.
“This is not about one player. This is about our football team.”
That team is expected to include a full-speed Jordy Nelson in Jacksonville on Sunday. McCarthy pronounced him “full-go” for practice this week.
Backup quarterback Brett Hundley is also expected to be over his ankle injury, which McCarthy said was not at issue in the decision to keep a third QB in undrafted D-III rookie Joe Callahan.
“This was clearly Joe Callahan earning a job,” McCarthy said. “How the hell is he not on your team? It was clear, you just watch the video. I thought it was obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.
“I think he’s a heck of a football player.”
Callahan is one of four undrafted rookies who arrived shortly after the draft that is currently on the 53-man roster, along with cornerback Josh Hawkins and safeties Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans. McCarthy said he’s never been more impressed with a group of rookie free agents.
Another one was added with the waiver claim of running back Jhurell Pressley from Minnesota. The speedy back from New Mexico ended his Vikings preseason on a high note, taking a screen pass for a 28-yard touchdown and returning a kickoff for a score.
McCarthy said Pressley would be looked at on special teams first and worked in from there.
“He has big-play ability,” McCarthy said. “Once we get him on the practice field tomorrow, we’ll see what direction we go with him.”
McCarthy also reiterated that even though the Packers kept only three inside linebackers on their 53-man roster – Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas – the primary spot for Clay Matthews remains on the outside.
“The goal is to play Clay outside,” McCarthy said. “That hasn’t changed. Anything you do that’s scheme-driven, there might be an exception, but his position is outside linebacker.”
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