Despite issues, offensive line pulled together in 2023

By: 
Jacob Westendorf
Green & Gold Express

Green Bay’s offensive line was supposed to finally have some stability.

After two seasons of battling a knee injury, David Bakhtiari was supposed to be back and better than ever.

In fact, the team even had a plan in place to ensure that he’d be ready on Sundays.

Maybe the team wouldn’t see him on the practice field a bunch during the year, but when the lights were on, Bakhtiari would be good to go.

“And then, like I’ve said, finally having an offseason of not having surgeries, the ability to let everything kind of calm down, settle in, train, put on muscle, protect the knee,” Bakhtiari said. “I’m very grateful and thankful for where I’m at, and I’m just kind of excited to see what happens. Football is football. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world, so we’ll see when we get out there.”

Bakhtiari felt good about where he was. The team felt good about everything.

They probably felt emboldened when Bakhtiari played his first game in the season opener against Chicago.

Bakhtiari looked like his usual All-Pro self.

Any defensive lineman that lined up across from Bakhtiari was shut out.

Unfortunately, that was the final game Bakhtiari would play in 2023.

Bakhtiari missed the next two games, leading to speculation that the team would not have him play on turf.

As it turned out, that speculation was erroneous. Bakhtiari was placed on injured reserve before the team’s 34-20 loss to Detroit in late September.

Bakhtiari’s renaissance lasted all of one game.

He gave way to a former seventh-round pick. Rasheed Walker won the job as the team’s swing tackle out of training camp, where he usurped Yosh Njiman.

Of all the players on the offensive line, it’s hard to imagine a player that had a tougher season than Njiman.

Yes, he was given the second-round tender in the offseason, which would ensure he was paid more than $4 million.

Njiman was likely the favorite to at least be the swing tackle, if not the right tackle.

He was in a battle with Zach Tom to be the starter at right tackle, but that was not much of a battle at all.

Tom spent one day with the starters at center, giving way for Njiman to play right tackle, but that was the only indication throughout training camp that Tom would not play right tackle.

He won that training camp battle in knockout fashion.

From there, Njiman would lose his swing tackle job to Walker and never really gained any footing as a starter. He would rotate with Walker in the middle of the season as Walker began to struggle but lost that competition as well.

By the end of the season, Njiman was no longer rotating with Walker and was relegated to spot duty.

He will likely play elsewhere in 2024.

The rest of the offensive line was a work in progress.

Early in the year, you could tell they were going through growing pains. Walker struggled. Elgton Jenkins had some rust to knock off.

Josh Myers and Jon Runyan Jr. were inconsistent. Tom was brilliant but struggled with injuries early in the season.

The Packers’ renaissance offensively can almost be directly attributed to the improvement of the players up front.

Walker shook off some struggles and thrived under the competition that he faced at midseason.

He did not allow a single pressure in postseason play.

By the end of the year, Jenkins looked a lot more like the Pro Bowl level player that the Packers were accustomed to before his ACL injury ended his 2021 season.

Myers remained inconsistent, and there’s a chance the Packers will look to add some competition at center for 2024. He’s likely to be playing for his job.

Runyan had one of the more interesting seasons of offensive line. Runyan, like Walker, would rotate series with a backup.

Sean Rhyan, the team’s third-round pick in 2022, would rotate with Runyan at right guard throughout the season.

Rhyan showed power in the run game and improvement as a pass blocker.

He would be an easy choice to be the team’s right guard with Runyan likely slated for free agency.

Runyan, who has started for the team in some capacity since he became a Packer, looked like someone who saw the writing on the wall in his exit interview with Green Bay media.

Runyan was fighting back tears as he discussed what being a Packer meant to him, and he hoped that he was not leaving

The reality, however, is that Runyan has had a nice career in Green Bay. The Packers could feasibly upgrade from him and likely want to see what they have in a former top-100 pick in Rhyan.

Right tackle might be the only position that is set in stone for 2024.

Tom was arguably the best player on offense in 2023. He was the team’s best blocker in both the run and pass game.

The Packers will need to replenish some depth, as they have been prone to do with this position group.

The biggest question is whether or not they’ll bring back Bakhtiari.

Bakhtiari, by all reports wants to return to Green Bay, but is that feasible with a cap hit of $40 million schedule to hit the books in 2024?

Regardless of what Green Bay does with him, he’ll count about $20 million against the cap anyway.

Could they look to work something out with him to return to the team at what they owe him anyway?

His play is not a question, but whether he can be relied on, while no fault of his own, is a fair question at this stage of his career.

That’s one of the biggest questions about not just the offensive line but the entire team.

It’s also possible that offensive line could be the targeted position with the Packers’ first-round pick in April.