Packers find Lane to success behind makeshift offensive line


Mark Eckel


Terrible feet. Laughable numbers in both the broad jump and vertical jump. An OK run blocker, but a liability in the passing game.

These were some of the opinions NFL scouts had of Lane Taylor prior to the 2013 draft. And those less-than-stellar sentiments were a huge reason Taylor went undrafted.

Today, the Packers offensive lineman must be saying, “How do you like me now?”

Taylor moved from left guard to left tackle Thursday after Green Bay’s top five offensive tackles were sidelined with injuries. And the Packers’ patchwork offensive line, and Taylor held up remarkably well.

Playing left tackle for the first time, Taylor didn’t give up a sack or pressure lined up primarily against wily veteran Willie Young.

Lucas Patrick made the first start of his career at left guard, while Justin McCray made the second start of his career at right tackle, and both players held up surprisingly well.

Amazingly, Chicago finished the night with just two sacks — and both were coverage sacks. The Packers scored touchdowns on all five trips to the red zone, set a season-high for points and rolled to a surprisingly easy 35-14 win in the NFL’s longest rivalry game.

“When they told me I was going to play tackle, I bought all in like I’ve done it for years,” Taylor said. “I put the same effort in that I do as a guard as a tackle, doing everything I could do to learn — getting tips from Bryan (Bulaga), from David (Bakhtiari). They were a big help in understanding the tackle position. I watched lots of film on them. I knew the guys I was going against. I tried to put myself in a good position.”

In 2002, center Mike Flanagan jumped outside and played left tackle after Chad Clifton suffered a season-ending pelvic injury. In 2015, left guard Josh Sitton and center J.C. Tretter moved to left tackle when Bakhtiari missed time late in the year.

Flanagan held his own as the Packers won four of five games down the stretch. Sitton struggled during a Week 17 loss to Minnesota that allowed the Vikings to win the division. Tretter played extremely well the following week when the Packers went to Washington and won a wild card playoff game.

Sliding Taylor outside certainly wasn’t ideal. But with Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bulaga (ankle) sidelined, and reserves Kyle Murphy, Don Barclay and Jason Spriggs all on injured reserve, Green Bay had few other options.

“If you’re on the roster, you’re expected to play,” McCray said. “One of the biggest things we say in here is no excuses. Wherever you’re called to play at, they expect you to play and play well.

“I think it’s a testament to not only the coaches that we have for making a plan that works for us, but the guys in the room. We want to do things extra for our team. Lane was excited about playing left tackle and I definitely was excited about playing right.”

It took just one series for Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to believe his makeshift line could hold up for a night. And McCarthy, who prides himself on offensive imagination and creativity, realized he wouldn’t have to scrap many of his favorite plays.

Green Bay ran the ball on five of its first six plays and picked up a pair of first downs. On a 3rd-and-1 from the Bears’ 31, Taylor chipped Young, McCray tied up standout end Akiem Hicks, then Rodgers rolled to his right and hit tight end Martellus Bennett for 26 yards on a crossing pattern.

On 2nd-and-goal from the 5, Green Bay employed four wideouts including Bennett in the slot, while rookie running back Jamaal Williams was flanked to the right of Rodgers. Rodgers had a run-pass option and faked a handoff to Williams, which slowed down the Bears’ rushers.

Up front, center Corey Linsley and McCray both drove their man three yards off the ball, while the others didn’t allow anyone near Rodgers. Davante Adams, who was lined up wide right, ran an inside slant, and Rodgers delivered a strike for a 7-0 Green Bay lead.

From that point on, McCarthy never hesitated when looking at his play sheet.

“Those guys didn’t even blink. I mean, there’s never any questions,” McCarthy said. “Lane just stepped out there, he took the practice reps and I thought those guys did a heck of a job.

“They kept us in a very flexible game plan because, through experience, there’s times you have to play it close to the vest and you can’t take advantage of your perimeter players, particularly Aaron and our perimeter players. But that wasn’t the case tonight. Those guys, they kept me in a very healthy call sheet. So we were able to stay aggressive, especially in the red zone. I thought our red zone execution was outstanding.”

Taylor’s rise from obscurity to one of the key cogs in Green Bay’s offense has been one of the greater rags to riches stories on this Packer team.

Taylor was given a $7,000 signing bonus after going undrafted in 2013. Earlier this year, he signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract with $9.35 million guaranteed.

In between, Taylor earned the trust of the coaches from 2013-15, then stepped in and started all 16 games a year ago after the Packers made the stunning decision to release Sitton.

Taylor had never played a snap at left tackle in his entire football life prior to Thursday. In fact, he had just one snap at right tackle, and that came during the spring game of his sophomore year at Oklahoma State.

When Taylor arrived at work Tuesday, though, he had a new position this week.

“I said, ‘All right.’ I just drowned myself in tackle knowledge and watching film,” Taylor said. “I was still even watching the guard on film on accident when I was studying.”

Taylor was a quick study. He didn’t allow Rodgers to get touched while playing against one of the more underrated defensive fronts in football.

“It’s fun, you know?” Taylor said. “Yeah, I had no idea how I’d do. I’d never played tackle in my life. It’s just fun to go out there and put together a good game.”

Patrick and McCray — two more undrafted free agents with something to prove — had awfully good games themselves.

McCray, who was playing in the Arena Football League a year ago, has quickly proven to be an adequate run blocker. Pass blocking can be his Achilles heel.

The first-year player out of Central Florida was serviceable two weeks ago against Atlanta, but was much improved against Chicago playing on a wet and slower track.

“I played all right,” McCray said. “I felt a lot better than what I did vs. Atlanta. Always room for improvement and I’ll keep getting better.”

Patrick, who played collegiately at Duke, signed with Green Bay on June 1, 2016 and might have made the 53-man roster if it wasn’t for a hand injury. The 6-3, 313 lineman spent all of last season on the practice squad, won a roster spot this summer and played winning football in his first NFL start.

“Really proud of Lucas,” Rodgers said. “I’ve kind of been in his corner for a long time – I just enjoy his approach, his attitude, the way he plays.”

As Rodgers and the Packers exited Lambeau Field late Thursday night — even Friday morning for some — they were all elated with the jerry-rigged offensive line. Taylor continued his upward trend. McCray and Patrick proved the lights weren’t too bright for them. And veterans Linsley and right guard Jahri Evans helped keep everything together.

Who would have thought?

“I think we just know Lane can play left tackle if we need it and Lucas can play left guard if we need it,” Rodgers said. “Obviously we’d love to get Bryan and David back at some point, but we stand here today feeling like we have more depth and more confidence in those guys than we had yesterday. So I’m really proud of those guys.”

He wasn’t alone.

The post Packers find Lane to success behind makeshift offensive line appeared first on Bob McGinn Football.

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Lane Taylor is a product of the Packers push to have players learn, and be able to play, multiple positions on the offensive line. No matter how we call it, or see it, there were two things that stood out against the Bears.

1. The versatility of players thrust into roles they normally don't play in. It starts with Taylor, and carries over to Blake Martinez, on the opposite side of the ball.

2. The game plan, which include more base defense, and a quicker release in our passing game, to keep the defense off Rodgers.

You have to give credit to the coaching staff for creating what was one heckuva solid game plan. I don't think I've seen one so well developed to play past adversity, from these coaches. I was impressed.

They're going to have a rough time explaining why Martinez doesn't get more playing time, and they have to be breathing easier, knowing Taylor did a solid job at left tackle. It created another emergency option on offense.

Now, with a long week of rest, they have to heal, and get players back on the field. It don't play out as easy in the next few games prior to the bye week.