Packers Promote Veteran OL, Re-Sign Former Badgers Starter

Braden/Dietzen Moves

Getty Jake Saunders #90 of the Northwestern Wildcats rushes against Jon Dietzen #67 of the Wisconsin Badgers at Ryan Field on November 21, 2020 in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin 17-7.

The Green Bay Packers have begun the adjustment process for the offensive line after losing starter Elgton Jenkins for the remainder of the 2021 season.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst promoted veteran guard Ben Braden from the team’s practice squad on November 23 while also putting Jenkins — who tore his ACL in Week 11’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings — on season-ending injured reserve.

The Packers also worked out rookie guard Jon Dietzen and rookie tackle Teton Saltes, according to the NFL’s transaction wire. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky later reported the team was re-signing Dietzen, a former Wisconsin Badgers starter, to their practice squad to take Braden’s leftover roster spot. Dietzen had been one of the Packers’ undrafted rookie signings in May but was released during the first wave of summer roster cuts.

It had been expected the Packers would do something to boost the depth of their offensive line in light of Jenkins’ injury. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo also reported on Tuesday that All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari had recently undergone arthroscopic surgery on his knee, delaying his return until after Week 13’s bye and increasing their need for more depth in the offensive trenches.

Braden, a 6-foot-6, 329-pound guard, has already appeared in three games this season for the Packers; though, exclusively as a special teams contributor. He has also spent portions of the last two seasons on Green Bay’s practice squad with an active-roster stint in 2020 that saw him play four regular-season games and both playoff contests.

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Saltes Seeking Fresh Start After Preseason Injury

Saltes might be a talent worth developing on the practice squad for the Packers if he showed enough in his roster tryout. He started 31 at right tackle in his final three seasons at New Mexico and was the 2020 recipient of the Wuerffel Trophy, which is awarded to the player “who bests combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.” He might have also stood a chance at making the New York Jets’ initial active roster if not for the knee injury he sustained in early August.

Here’s what Lance Zierlein of wrote about Saltes in his pre-draft profile of him, projecting him as either a seventh-round pick or a priority undrafted free agent:

Intriguing prospect with all kinds of athletic potential. However, Saltes is high-cut and plays way too high. He will need to work on dropping his pad level, with better lower-body bend. Saltes plays with good initial quickness into his block fits and churns his engine to open the run lane. He’s an easy mover in space and has no problem making adjustments on combination blocks. The run blocking is fun to watch but the pass protection is a concern. He might need a redshirt year to work on his game, but Saltes has potential and should become at least a serviceable backup, if not more.

What’s Going on With Dennis Kelly?

The Packers will be going with Yosh Nijman as their starting left tackle until Bakhtiari is healthy enough to rejoin the lineup, but there is also another, more experienced tackle on their roster who has strangely been uninvolved on offense this season: Dennis Kelly.

The Packers signed Kelly on July 29 shortly after players had reported for training camp in a move that, at the time, was regarded as a quality veteran addition for a position that was going to be without its best player for the first few months of the year. Kelly was coming off a 2020 season in which he started every game at right tackle for the Tennessee Titans and allowed no sacks on more than 1,000 offensive snaps. Prior to last season, he had also played 93 career games with his time split between Philadelphia (2012-15) and Tennesee (2016-20).

The plan, however, changed when Kelly sustained a back injury during training camp and was unable to practice for a large chunk of the summer. He was good to go by the time the season opener against New Orleans rolled around on September 12 but was extremely limited in the first four games before getting added back to the injury report in Week 5 and missing the next four games with back issues. He has played just three special teams snaps (in Week 9 vs. Kansas City) since getting removed from the injury report.

Perhaps, the Packers have been biding their time with the 31-year-old offensive tackle to allow him the chance to get acclimated with their offense, but it will be interesting to see whether his usage increases now that Jenkins’ season is over. It is also worth noting that he was healthy and available when Jenkins missed three games earlier in the year with an ankle injury and that the Packers instead choose to go with Nijman; although, again, it could have been a decision based on his familiarity with their offense.

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