IF there could possibly be any silver lining to the loss of Jordy Nelson this season, perhaps it might have been the timing. The third preseason game is usually the most significant one, with teams often playing their starters for the entire first half. Saturday night’s match-up with the Philadelphia Eagles should have been a golden, much needed opportunity for the first team offense to gel. While the team is returning nearly all of its starters on offense, they’re going to need to find a way to quickly coalesce without Nelson if they are going to be successful. That means that young wide receivers like Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, and Myles White are going to need to acclimate themselves even more quickly to the NFL game. Sheer reps will also be needed for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in order that he might become comfortable with relatively new and suddenly important pieces in his arsenal. The sort of trust and silent communication needed between a quarterback and his wide receivers are built only through habit.
Saturday’s preseason game should have been a great opportunity for the offense sans Jordy to rethink its schemes and try out its adjustments, to develop some cohesion. Even with a largely healthy roster, the offense has not come out as sharp as it should have over the past few seasons. To work past that hump without Nelson would require the proper utilization of the team’s final two preseason games, with perhaps a few more plays being run with the first team offense than would normally be the case.
Unfortunately, however, the Packers are finding themselves without the luxury of giving their starters that much needed practice. Injuries to the starting offensive line and poor play from the 2nd and 3rd string make extended play (or any play at all) for Rodgers in the upcoming preseason game a risk that the team seems reluctant to take.
Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, RG T.J. Lang all missing practice. #Packers offensive line quite thin midway through training camp.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) August 26, 2015
With left tackle David Bakhtiari already having missed much of training camp with a knee injury, starting guards Josh Sitton and TJ Lang have not practiced since last Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Sitton is nursing an injured ankle while Lang is going through the protocol to return from a concussion. Sitton and Lang have been replaced by Lane Taylor and Josh Walker respectively, leaving center Corey Linsley and right tackle Bryan Bulaga as the only currently standing starters on the offensive line.
But it has been not the injuries per se, but the play of back-up left tackle Don Barclay that has been most disruptive for the offense. While many analysts have been less than confident in Barclay as an NFL tackle, he seems to be taking multiple steps backward since looking serviceable starting six games at right tackle in 2012, filling in for an injured Bryan Bulaga.
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) August 23, 2015
Barclay’s play has been so sub-par, particularly in pass protection, that it appears that the team is simply not in the position to give Rodgers and company the necessary reps to begin working through the loss of Nelson. Young tackles Fabbians Ebbele, Vince Kowalski, and Jeremy Vujnovich are still projects and cannot yet be counted on to protect Rodgers’ blindside either. And so, in the wake of Nelson’s loss, perhaps even more gun shy than usual, the coaching staff appears poised to greatly limit Rodgers’ playing time on Saturday, if they allow him to play at all.
— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) August 26, 2015
Rodgers took just one of the six snaps in the red zone offense drill.
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) August 26, 2015
Aaron Rodgers took the first snap of the 11-on-11s. Then Brett Hundley took over. A sign 12 might not play much or at all vs. Philly.
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) August 26, 2015
Mike McCarthy said he'd evaluate Aaron Rodgers' playing time for Saturday in practice. And, well, Rodgers isn't playing much in practice.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) August 26, 2015
On the bright side, Bakhtiari, Sitton, and Lang are all expected back by the season opener against the Chicago Bears. And so long as the starting offensive line can stay healthy, fans should not expect many problems from one of the better groups in the NFL. Rookie receivers like Janis and Montgomery will certainly see a multitude of essential snaps against the Eagles as well, but they will be with young, developing quarterbacks themselves, rookie Brett Hundley and former practice squad member Matt Blanchard. Not even Scott Tolzien is likely to suit up as he is also going through the concussion protocol. So the snaps will be there for Montgomery, Janis, et al, but they will, of course, be no substitution for the first team reps that the team should have been able to procure from this game.
While the sky isn’t falling, the coaching staff is going to have to find some savvy ways to not be forced into halting the development of this new offense until all hands are back on board at the offensive line. If it doesn’t, the Packers’ offense might find itself working through kinks and growing pains not just in August, but during real games in September and October. It is not that the team doesn’t have immense talent and scoring ability, it is that it’s going to take time to rework the puzzle after the loss of an essential piece. And time is growing thin.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.