Aaron Rodgers could be depending on two rookie pass-protectors to keep him upright when the Green Bay Packers open their new season on September 12.
While the Packers have not revealed exactly which five offensive linemen will be in their starting lineup for Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, head coach Matt LaFleur significantly narrowed down the possibilities on September 6 when he implied to reporters that two rookies would have prominent roles on “opening day.”
“I have not experienced two rookies, especially side by side like that, starting opening day, but those guys, they’ve got a lot of good guys around them and we’ve got a lot of confidence in their ability to go out there and perform at a high level,” LaFleur said of potentially starting two rookie offensive linemen in the Packers’ season opener. “I thought those guys have done an outstanding job of just learning each and every day, but ultimately, we’ve got to go out there and do it.”
Those two rookies, of course, are second-round center Josh Myers and fourth-round guard/tackle Royce Newman. While Myers was drafted to replace veteran center Corey Linsley and has been a presumed starter for the Packers, Newman’s role for the 2021 season was less clear until he actually hit the field for training camp and the preseason this summer.
According to Pro Football Focus, Newman allowed no pressures on 42 pass-blocking snaps through the Packers’ three exhibition games and finished as their highest-graded rookie offensive lineman (91.8) during the 2021 preseason, earning praise for “consistently establishing leverage” in his matchups.
If Myers and Newman are both starters in Week 1, the rest of the Packers’ lineup becomes fairly easy to predict: Elgton Jenkins is the obvious choice to slot in at left tackle for injured All-Pro David Bakhtiari, while right tackle Billy Turner and guard Lucas Patrick are also set to reprise their starting roles. They also have a pair of notable depth pieces in veteran tackle Dennis Kelly and 2020 sixth-round guard Jon Runyan Jr.
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Rodgers & Hill Could Also Make Immediate Impact
Myers and Newman likely won’t be the only Packers rookies with opportunities to impose their wills against the Saints this weekend. The Packers will also be looking for Amari Rodgers and Kylin Hill to provide a spark as their new punt (Rodgers) and kick (Hill) returners, taking over for last year’s cast of Tyler Ervin, Tavon Austin and Darrius Shepherd — none of whom are still with the team heading into 2021.
The Packers traded away their original third- and fourth-round picks to move up and draft Rodgers at No. 85 overall, and it wasn’t just for his abilities as a true slot receiver. While Rodgers caught 181 passes for 2,144 yards and 15 touchdowns during his four seasons at Clemson, he also fielded 68 punts for an average of 7.8 yards per return with one taken 58 yards to the house during his sophomore season. That aspect of his game could be his ticket to early playing time, especially with the Packers’ receiver room packed with more experienced names.
Hill faces a similar situation as the Packers’ third-string running back behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Barring an injury or COVID-related absence, there won’t be many touches for him out of the backfield, but his unique combination of explosiveness and elusiveness could make him a dangerous weapon for the Packers on kickoff returns.