The Green Bay Packers have already had cope without their most important offensive lineman, David Bakhtiari, through the first two weeks of the new season. Now, they could be forced to face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football without another Pro Bowler in the trenches.
Elgton Jenkins, the Packers’ third-year star who has been starting at left tackle in Bakhtiari’s absence, did not participate in the team’s first practice of Week 3 on September 22 and was listed on their injury report with a new ankle injury that raises concerns about his status against the 49ers on Sunday night.
The Packers also listed injuries for outside linebacker Rashan Gary (elbow), cornerback Chandon Sullivan (knee) and first-round rookie Eric Stokes (quadricep); though, both Sullivan and Gary were full participants during the first practice. For now, there is little to suggest Stokes’ status is in jeopardy for Week 3’s game, but his status is definitely worth monitoring after he had an impact performance last week.
Stokes was limited along with defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster (back), safety Vernon Scott (hamstring) and tight end Josiah Deguara (concussion), the latter two of which were inactive during Week 2’s win over the Detroit Lions.
The Niners were less fortunate with their first injury report of the week, missing defensive end Arik Armstead (abductor), defensive tackle Kevin Givens (ankle) and running back Elijah Mitchell (shoulder) and JaMycal Hasty (ankle) on Wednesday. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (knee), defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (knee) and rookie rusher Trey Sermon (concussion) were also limited in the first practice.
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What’s the Backup Plan if Jenkins Can’t Play?
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters on Wednesday the team would give Jenkins the entire week before determining his status against the 49ers, which at least leaves open the possibility of him playing on Sunday night. They said the same things about Za’Darius Smith in Week 1 and Darnell Savage in Week 2 and both ended up playing in some capacity.
If Jenkins is unable to suit up, though, LaFleur doesn’t seem to think the team will be stretching its imagination to find a backup plan given their personnel.
“You guys know our roster,” LaFleur told reporters when asked about their backup plan if Jenkins is unavailable. “I’ll let you decipher what we might do.”
It seems almost certain the Packers will turn to veteran offensive tackle Dennis Kelly in the event Jenkins cannot play. The only other pure tackle on their roster is Yosh Nijman, and while the Packers have shown optimism about his value, it is tough to imagine them starting him at either tackle spot when a more experienced option is available. The bigger question is whether the Packers will play Kelly at right or left tackle.
Kelly was a 16-game starter at right tackle last season for the Tennessee Titans, which could motivate them to put him where he is comfortable while letting Billy Turner — someone they have seen play left tackle for them — take over responsibilities on the left. Turner has allowed seven pressures through two games and 122 offensive snaps, but he has also only given up one sack and held up pretty effectively for the run game.
Deguara Takes Step in Right Direction
While the Packers now have worries about the integrity of their offensive line, they did also get some encouraging injury news for their offense on Wednesday.
Second-year tight end Josiah Deguara returned to practice for the first time since sustaining a concussion in Week 1’s loss to New Orleans, participating in a limited capacity on Wednesday and taking one step closer to clearing concussion protocol. The Packers signaled they weren’t concerned about their depth at tight end earlier in the week when they parted ways with Jace Sternberger, but it remains uncertain whether he will be available in Week 3 against the 49ers.
The Packers got the job done just fine at the position in Week 2 with Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis and Dominique Dafney. Tonyan caught all three of his passing targets for 52 yards, including one for a 22-yard touchdown that put the Packers ahead of the Lions for good in the 35-17 win. Still, the Packers will gain more versatility when Deguara returns to the lineup, giving them former third-round talent who is capable of lining up at tight end, fullback and H-Back when necessary.