With Monday’s signing of second round draft choice Jason Spriggs, the Green Bay Packers have taken their first step in shoring up an offensive line that is crucial for a successful offensive attack. Ted Thompson and the Packers saw enough promise in the Indiana tackle that they traded up their fourth and seventh round draft choices with Indianapolis for the chance to move up from the 57th pick to the 48th pick in the second round. And with that, the Packers likely expect that the rookie tackle to make an impact as early as this season.
There is no question that the Packers desperately needed another player to fit the bill as the blind side tackle. And that’s something Spriggs brings to the table day one. While Indiana University is not what one thinks of as a powerhouse Big Ten football team, Spriggs is definitely the real deal. He’s a fast player that comes out his stance as soon as the ball is snapped. He has long arms and excellent hand skills and will use them as a weapon in pass protection. He was a consistent four-year starter at IU and has a solid football IQ.
In other words, he’s ready to make the transition from college ball to the pros.
Heading into the draft, everyone–myself included–thought the Packers would take an inside linebacker in the first round. But with a suddenly shallow depth chart on the defensive line with BJ Raji unexpectedly walking away from football, Letroy Guion one stupid traffic stop from the end of his career (yes, I exaggerate–or do I?), Mike Pennell watching the first four games of the season from a couch while he sits is PED suspension and now Josh Boyd’s release after never returning from a season-ending ugly ankle fracture last fall, it makes perfect sense that the Packers pulled the trigger on a nose tackle in the first round.
But all joking about the new paucity of talent on the defensive line, the Packers think offensive line was always one injury away from being a complete disaster last season. On the flip side, the OL was relatively healthy and remained intact for the lion’s share of the 2014 season. That said, that was the year they were a heartbeat away from heading back to the Super Bowl despite an injured Aaron Rodgers nursing an ailing calf muscle. There is no question that the offensive line made that deep playoff run a possibility. There is definitely a correlation with a healthy, strong offensive line and the long-term success of any team down the homestretch of the season.
On the flip side, consider the tailspin the Packers went into last season when the offensive line was held together by not much more than spit, maybe a piece of used chewing gum and a paper clip. Yes, Aaron Rodgers and his Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Season didn’t help matters. But when Rodgers was at his worst last year, it correlated with when the offensive line was absolutely threadbare.
Remember that time when David Bakhtiari was injured and every experiment to replace him–including shifting Josh Sitton over to blindside tackle–was an absolute failure? How many times was Rodgers either knocked down or outright sacked during that period where the Packers had no true tackle choice to fill in for Bakhtiari? How may sacks and knockdowns did Don Barclay own? Or what about the years prior where either Derek Sherrod or Marshall Newhouse was the only thing between Aaron Rodgers and a horrible pancaking death?
In the immediate future, expect Spriggs to be the first off the bench. He can play tackle on either side. And he could possibly play guard as well. Moreover, his on-field flexibility, speed and strength could also lend itself to more concrete options to plug holes left from injuries. Last year, plugging those holes, at times amounted to a warm body and the hope that they would succeed. Let’s face it, as great as Sitton is at playing guard, putting him in at tackle was like putting a bandaid on a giant sucking chest wound.
With Spriggs proven track record playing tackle, it could put Bakhtiari into play as an option to play guard should Josh Sitton or TJ Lang go down with an injury. By doing so the Packers wouldn’t be desperate. An offensive line that can front its five strongest offensive linemen instead of a cobbled-together discombobulation of five OL would likely be more efficient and effective when it goes into injury mode.
But what about long-term solutions to the offensive line? Four of the five of the current offensive line will be up for contract renewals in the next two years. If history tells of anything, at least one of them will not be back by the time the 2019 season roles around. Ted Thompson runs the equivalent of Logan’s Run when it comes to the player’s roster. Once a player heads into his thirties, his days are numbered, and Thompson is looking toward the youth of the team to become the newest class of starters.
2017 marks the last contract year for guards Josh Sitton and TJ Lang as well as left Tackle David Bakhtiari. Center Corey Linsley’s contract expires the next year, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s contract is the longest. It ends at the end of the 2020 season. In other words, the Packers run the risk of losing 4/5 of its offensive line in the next two years. In that scenario, the offensive line could quickly become as anemic as the 2016 post-season defensive line. Simply put, the Packers really needed to add to the OL depth chart before players were lost to attrition from stalled contract negotiations or merely released in the name of fresh, youthful faces on the line.
This is where Spriggs could also make an impact down the line. It may be a safe assumption that either Lang or Sitton will not return for 2018. If Bakhtiari could make the transition from tackle to guard, then Spriggs could easily fit into the lineup as the blindside tackle. After all, it’s always easier for a tackle to fill in for a guard. The same cannot be said going the other way.
In short, Jason Spriggs immediately adds depth and strength to a fairly shallow offensive line pool. His ferocity and knowledge of the game would immediately be an insurance policy for the five starts. He would be a significant step up compared to the current backups on the depth chart. In addition he may be a very solid long-term investment from the inevitable turnover in talent that will occur in the next few years. By doing so, he would be the epitome of Thompson’s Draft and Develop mantra.
Either way expect good things from Indiana’s Jason Spriggs!--------------