Monday Musings: D-Line Depth

The big questions between now and the opener are whether David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins will start against the Vikings. Multiple factors will go into those decisions; one might be the hard surface inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Jenkins tore his ACL on that turf last fall, and it’s fair to wonder whether that’s the best place to return for star players coming off serious knee injuries. Anyway, here are a few more thoughts that ran through my mind in recent days:

1) The Packers opened last season with Kingsley Keke in the starting lineup and Tyler Lancaster as the top backup on the defensive line. The former is currently out of the league, and the latter is battling for a job in Vegas. Meanwhile, in Green Bay, first-round pick Devonte Wyatt will have a hard time getting on the field in Week 1. That’s an example of how much the talent has improved at this position in just 12 months. With proven veterans Kenny Clark, Jarran Reed, Dean Lowry, and talented youngsters Wyatt and T.J. Slaton, general manager Brian Gutekunst will almost certainly have to release a player (Jack Heflin or Chris Slayton) who’s performed about as well this summer as Kingsley and Lancaster did a year ago. That’s called progress, and it’s one of the reasons the 2022 defense has a chance to be very good.

2) Cole Van Lanen looks much more comfortable in his second camp. As a rookie, the former Badger was thinking way too much, and it caused him to play slowly and passively. That hasn’t been the case this summer. The Green Bay native hasn’t allowed a pressure in the first two preseason games. His run blocking hasn’t been as impressive, especially at guard, but that shouldn’t be a surprise considering how new he is to the position. It’s certainly nice to see Van Lanen looking a lot more like the player who held his own against the elite pass rushers in the Big 10. The 24-year-old has taken snaps at every position except center, and that versatility should give him a fighting chance to make the final roster.

3) Matt LaFleur remained noncommittal on Monday when asked whether he’ll use his starters in the final exhibition game against the Chiefs. Let’s hope he was just being coy with the local media. Putting veteran starters in jeopardy so they can play a few series two and a half weeks before the season opener in Minnesota would make absolutely no sense. Fortunately, quarterback/assistant coach/assistant general manager Aaron Rodgers will most likely make that decision, and it’s difficult to imagine the back-to-back MVP wanting to suit up in a meaningless game that will feature dozens of desperate young players doing all they can to survive final cuts, which will take place five days later. As with every team in the league, health will ultimately determine the fate of the 2022 Packers, and there’s no reason to tempt it in late August.

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Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.

6 thoughts on “Monday Musings: D-Line Depth

  1. I wonder if we’ll see teams who need help at OT and DT looking to trade with GB. Seems like there’s more NFL caliber players in camp than the Packers have roster spots. Might be a chance to shore up where the team is thinner too. (safety, cb, etc)

    Separate note: I absolutely can not wait to watch this defense play.

    Last note is regarding shutting down comments on your blog. One thing that I think hurts posting here is that it’s segmented into each article. If there was a more general message board where conversations could continue even once a post was buried under a couple of others it might help topics thrive. People who post on these boards like to get responses just as much as writers do. 🙂

    1. Interesting idea about a message board. I’ll work on putting one together in the next day or two. Can’t hurt to give it a try. Thanks, CJS.

  2. The only thing that concerns me about the defense is the lack of depth at a few positions. I’d like to see Gutekunst add a couple of veterans at outside linebacker and safety. A player like Whitney Mercilus, who was looking for a ring at the end of his career.

  3. I think Slayton has played hard and inspired, he looks fast and you need guys like Heflin. Maybe a surprise trade to get some value out of Lowrey and free up a spot? Too much DL talent, who would have believed? Great problem to have. GO PACK

  4. Still blows my mind that the defensive line went from a major weakness to a major strength in a year.

    Michael – you’ve been really critical of Gute in the past, and rightfully so with some decisions, but it seems like he’s really been pulling the right strings the last couple years. Curious if you’re coming around at all on him as a GM?

  5. I think this defense, especially the d-line, will have an excellent opening day test. I can very well see the Pack losing this game. It’s a long season. To me, this looks like a team that if it can stay healthy will make strides as the year goes on. They may have to feel out exactly how to use Douglas. Quay is going to need some time. And we’ll just have to see what the 3 and 4 OLBs are able to contribute. On the other side, I expect some really ugly offense early in the year. Hopefully the D keeps them in games. I think Doubs and Watson are going to have to be key down the stretch. I just don’t see Watkins and Cobb doing much at all. Defenses will focus on the run, which will be tough for this OL, even if Bakh and Jenkins come back early, as they round into playing shape.

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