The most surprising news to emerge from the first few practices of training camp is the legitimate competition occurring on the right side of the offensive line. Veterans Billy Turner, Rick Wagner, and Lane Taylor are battling for two starting spots. On Saturday, Turner opened at right tackle and Taylor at right guard. Two days later found Wagner at right tackle and Turner at right guard. And while there’s nothing wrong with competition, all of this shuffling seems a bit much.
GM Brian Gutekunst signed Wagner to a two-year, $11 million contract in March, including $5.75 million in guaranteed money. That’s not a deal you give to a backup. So what happened during the virtual offseason that made the coaches uncomfortable with the 30-year-old former Raven and Lion? Well, aside from actually watching his tape from last season, I have no idea. Wagner hasn’t been a particularly effective right tackle since 2018, but he’s still the best option the team has to replace Bryan Bulaga.
It’s hard to understand the rationale for giving Turner significant snaps at right tackle. He hasn’t played the position since week 8 in 2018, and he wasn’t any better than Wagner was a year ago. Plus, Turner gave up a whopping 10 sacks and 39 hurries last season – and that was with Bulaga and center Corey Linsley protecting him on both sides. Giving Turner occasional snaps at tackle makes sense since he might have to move there in case of injury, but placing him in a full-fledged competition for the starting job seems misguided. He’d be better off working on his footwork and technique at guard, which were both issues in 2019.
As for Taylor, he’s worked exclusively at right guard early in camp after spending almost the entirety of his career in Green Bay on the left side. If healthy, the former undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State is probably a slightly better player than Turner. He’s certainly a better pass protector. Taylor allowed only four combined sacks in 2016 and 2017. He gave up eight in 2018, but a foot injury hampered him for most of that season. On the other hand, Taylor isn’t quite as athletic as Turner, and that could matter since coach Matt LaFleur has spent the past six months vowing to make the run game a bigger part of the offense.
Of course, most of this shuffling would be unnecessary if Gutekunst simply added another proven tackle to the roster. Jared Veldheer, who played well for the Packers in a couple of key games late last season, is still available. So is Cordy Glenn, who’s started 95 games in the NFL. Either veteran would be a welcome addition to an offensive line that right now is a couple of turned ankles away from becoming one giant turnstile.
The guess here is that Turner and Wagner will ultimately start the season opener against Minnesota, but regardless of who starts where on the offensive line, the Packers aren’t going to be very good on the right side. That’s been a given since Gutekunst let Bulaga walk in free agency, replaced him with the declining Wagner, and ignored the position early in the draft. And while Aaron Rodgers has been able to overcome shaky play at right guard and/or right tackle in the past – think Don Barclay and Justin McCray – that was a much younger and more mobile quarterback. It remains to be seen if a soon-to-be 37-year-old will be so unaffected.
–photo courtesy of packers.com