GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If a starting cornerback is out -- and the Green Bay Packers have a couple who fit that description right now -- you don’t have to sit linebacker Clay Matthews in order to protect him. But when neither of your starting tackles can play, then why put Aaron Rodgers at risk in a preseason game?
Perhaps Rodgers wouldn’t have played anyway -- he has not played in a preseason opener since the summer of 2015 -- but with left tackle David Bakhtiari’s sprained left ankle likely to keep him out for a few weeks and right tackle Bryan Bulaga held out of 11-on-11 drills to this point in his return from last year’s ACL surgery, there’s little chance that Rodgers will play in Thursday’s exhibition opener against the Tennessee Titans.
The question, however, is how much trouble would the Packers -- and more specifically Rodgers -- be in if the starting offensive line looked like it did in Monday’s practice? It was former sixth-round pick Kyle Murphy at left tackle and former second-rounder Jason Spriggs on the right side.
Ideally, the Packers hoped to have only one new opening-day starter on the line this season -- likely Justin McCray at right guard. But even McCray has more experience than a typical first-time Week 1 starter given that he has started eight games at three different positions.
The Packers don’t want a repeat of last season, when they used 11 different starting offensive line combinations in 16 games. But they might be better off now because of it.
Murphy and Spriggs, members of the same draft class in 2016, have combined for 10 career starts. Both finished last season on injured reserve -- Murphy because of a foot injury and Spriggs with a dislocated kneecap.
“I feel better about the depth this year because, unfortunately, the injuries that we had have forced us to play guys like McCray at a number of different spots,” Rodgers said last week before Bakhtiari went down. “Spriggs has played guard and tackle, and Murphy has played guard and tackle both sides.”
Bakhtiari sounded encouraged on Monday, when he called his injury "thankfully nothing catastrophic.”
“The best way to describe it is kind of the typical basketball sprained ankle,” Bakhtiari said. “You kind of see them go down and see they just kind of roll over them. That’s kind of what happened.”
Last summer, Bulaga sprained his right ankle during an Aug. 23 training camp practice and missed the first two games of the regular season. It’s possible the ankle played a part in his right ACL tear later in the season. The fact that Bakhtiari sprained his ankle nearly three weeks earlier in camp than Bulaga did bodes well for his recovery by Week 1.
For now, though, the spotlight will shine on Murphy at the all-important left tackle spot to protect the quarterback’s blind side, whether it’s Rodgers, Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer or rookie Tim Boyle.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to look at everything in this league like that when you can get reps. A lot of guys are on 90-man rosters that would die for reps like that. ... Since I got here, I feel like I’ve been on the right side more than not; it’s probably been about 80-20 or 70-30 before this year. To get back to thinking that way and consistently being able to play on the left side is big, while keeping that right side somewhat consistent because it’s keeping me ambidextrous. After doing right for a couple years, it’s kind of like riding a bike. I can go back over there and feel pretty good. These reps at left are priceless. I’ve been feeling good, feeling quick, feeling strong.”
After a relatively healthy start to training camp, the injuries have begun to pile up. In addition to losing projected starting inside linebacker Jake Ryan (torn ACL), the Packers were without potential starting cornerbacks Kevin King (shoulder) and first-round pick Jaire Alexander (groin) on Monday. For King, any mention of a shoulder injury sounds problematic given that he had surgery on his left shoulder last season. This injury, however, is to his right shoulder. Alexander, who has been taking reps as the top slot cornerback, dropped out of this past Saturday’s Family Night practice and sounded unlikely to make his debut against the Titans on Thursday.
“We’re trying to win the marathon here,” Alexander said.
Another potential starter -- safety Kentrell Brice -- has an ankle injury. He returned Monday but did not complete the practice, while starting defensive tackle Mike Daniels (quad) hasn’t practiced in nearly a week.