GREEN BAY — Lane Taylor is no dummy. He knows when your new coach says you’re competing with a second-round draft pick to keep the starting job you’ve held for three years, your spot on the Green Bay Packers offensive line is no longer secure.
So while the seventh-year left guard is in no way ceding his starting spot to rookie Elgton Jenkins, he’s also realistic enough to know he could outplay Jenkins and still wind up out of a job — since the 6-foot-6, 312-pound Jenkins was drafted in part because his athleticism fits Matt LaFleur’s outside zone running scheme better than the 6-foot-3, 324-pound Taylor.
“Obviously everything’s up for grabs. I just handle my business and let everything happen. Whatever happens, happens,” Taylor said after practice Tuesday. “When you take all the emotions out of it, you’ve got to earn your spot (every year).”
That said, Taylor was the only starting offensive lineman to dress for the Packers’ Aug. 8 preseason opener against Houston, and after the game LaFleur stated the obvious: Taylor was competing for the job with Jenkins, who rotated in with Taylor in that game and again last week at Baltimore. The pattern figures to continue against the Oakland Raiders in Thursday night’s game in Winnipeg.
Taylor said he learned his spot wasn’t safe the day before the Texans game.
“Obviously it’s not the most exciting thing to hear in the world,” he said.
But since that game, Taylor has still been the first man up during every 11-on-11 period in practice, so if the Packers are planning to go with the less-expensive Jenkins — Taylor is set to count $5.475 million against the salary cap this season — it won’t be because the rookie thoroughly outplayed him. Instead, it likely will be because they found a trade partner willing to give up a draft pick to acquire a starting-caliber player at a sometimes hard-to-fill position.
General manager Brian Gutekunst said there was plenty of trade chatter this week and that should continue in the coming days.
“Especially this week after that second preseason game, everybody’s calling, trying to figure out where you’re heavy, where you’re light, what you might be willing to part with,” Gutekunst said. “A lot of that is just information gathering, trying to figure out who has a realistic possibility of being out there at the 53 cut. So those conversations are happening.
“I think you’ve seen that in the past, late this week or early next week is when a lot of the trades happen. Once we get past that fourth preseason game, or really close to it, then everybody’s just waiting for guys to get cut.”
Still, the Packers could simply decide Taylor’s worth keeping because of his veteran presence, his strong working relationship with left tackle David Bakhtiari and, frankly, because he can still play. LaFleur reiterated the competition is ongoing this week when asked about it, adding he couldn’t give a “definitive” timeline on when he wanted to have his starting five set in advance of the Sept. 5 season opener at Chicago.
But if they go in another direction, Taylor said he’s ready for that, too.
“You’re not going to go through your career without a little competition. I wasn’t handed a spot or anything. I had to work for it, so it’s all part of my career,” said Taylor, who became a starter in 2016 when the team cut Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton at the end of camp. “They drafted a guy high, so you know they’re going to want to get him in there and play him.
“I don’t think I’m out of this place in this scheme at all. I can fit in any scheme, really. I know I’m a starter and I can play. So I’m not worried about all that. My plan is to be here and keep rolling on into the season.”
TBD on 12
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers took part in Tuesday’s closed-to-the-public practice, his second straight day on the practice field after not practicing Sunday and not playing in Baltimore, LaFleur was coy when asked if Rodgers was going to make his preseason debut against the Raiders.
“That’s to be determined. I just want to wait and see,” LaFleur replied. “I’m not going to say one way or the other right now. It’ll be a game-time decision.”
Meanwhile, LaFleur said running back Aaron Jones, who has yet to play in preseason because of a hamstring issue early in camp, should make his debut, though it’ll be a brief appearance.
“I anticipate him playing a series or so,” LaFleur said.
On the injury front, tight end Jimmy Graham did not practice because of a finger injury he suffered earlier in the week, but rookie tight end Jace Sternberger was back in action for the first time since sustaining a concussion during the first joint practice with the Texans on Aug. 5.
“I don’t see him playing in this game,” LaFleur said. “But it was good to get him back out there, get him moving around a little bit.”
Because the Packers are into their regular-season schedule this week and they’re playing on a Thursday instead of a Sunday, Tuesday — try to follow along here, because it’s confusing — was like a Friday for the players. That meant a light practice in the morning and the afternoon off from meetings.
After practice, LaFleur indicated that despite the athletic training/medical staff remaining the same from the Mike McCarthy regime, he’s not incorporating into his schedule any of the Friday STAA Program (Soft Tissue Activation and Application) that McCarthy instituted in 2014 in hopes of combating injuries. Intended to decrease the risk of muscle pulls, the STAA program included massages, yoga sessions and acupuncture.
LaFleur said his Friday practices focus on red-zone plays, and that he likes doing that on Fridays so adjustments can be made the day before the game if necessary. He said on Saturdays, unlike McCarthy’s heartier practices, will be a short walkthrough but that most of the work will be “mental.”
“Just from my past experience, Friday has typically been our emphasis on the red zone day, so we’d like to keep it that way,” LaFleur said. “We lighten the practice up certainly, because you want to start to get these guys in recovery mode. A typical Friday, about half the practice will be full speed, and then the later half of the practice will be walk-through tempo or jog-through tempo just to lighten the load on the guys.”