With uncertainty at right tackle, Packers add veteran Byron Bell
GREEN BAY — A week of organized team activity practices apparently was enough for the Green Bay Packers to see more than just opportunity for a number of their young offensive linemen. Evidently, they also saw enough from their youngsters to feel they needed a veteran option in the mix.
That would explain why the team officially added veteran lineman Byron Bell on Wednesday, one day after the 29-year-old, eighth-year veteran announced the news himself on his Instagram account.
Bell, who entered the league with the Carolina Panthers in 2011 as an undrafted free agent from New Mexico, has started 74 career games during his eight seasons, including two last season with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Packers’ top three options at right tackle all ended last season on injured reserve: Veteran starter Bryan Bulaga, who suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in November; backup Jason Spriggs, a 2016 second-round pick who dislocated his left kneecap in December; and Kyle Murphy, who filled in early in the season before undergoing foot surgery in early October.
Bulaga has not yet been cleared for practice and it seems unlikely that he’d be ready for the first day of training camp on July 26. Although the team has said Bulaga is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, there’s no guarantee he’ll be cleared in time for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears.
Spriggs got the first snap with the No. 1 offense at right tackle during the first open OTA practice last week, but he did so wearing a bulky brace on his left knee and usually came out after a snap or two of 11-on-11 work. Murphy still hasn’t been cleared for action but was at practice last week. It’s unclear when he’ll be able to get team snaps.
In addition to the rotation at right tackle, the Packers also have some questions at right guard, where six-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans has yet to return and appears to be an in-case-of-emergency option at this point, and at left guard, where starter Lane Taylor is entrenched but had offseason ankle surgery and has not been taking part in OTAs. Justin McCray looks like the favorite to win the right guard job while Lucas Patrick worked with the starters at left guard with Taylor out.
Offensive line coach James Campen said last week that the extra work was good for the younger players.
““I think it’s a heck of an opportunity for guys to rotate in there and do a lot of things now,” Campen said of Bulaga, Taylor and Evans not being in the mix. “We’re getting (in the) team period 14 reps or 16 reps, but it’s (also) the work we get to do on the side with them.
“You move guys here and there. You use it as an advantage, because as we’ve seen before at times. You have to put guys in and move guys around. People get really comfortable with guys they’ve worked with. You try to rep a lot of that as well as looking at the evaluations. I look at it as a positive thing. Obviously, you’d love to have Bryan and everybody out there doing their thing, but be that as it may, even if everything was there, there’d still be some rotation and some things going on.”
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Bell, who actually visited the Packers as a free agent last year before signing with the Cowboys, has played every offensive line position other than center during his career but started the majority of his games (41) at right tackle — including his first NFL start on Sept. 18, 2011 against the Packers
Bell missed all of the 2016 season with a severe ankle injury but started 12 games in 2011, 15 games in 2012, 14 games in 2013 and 15 games in 2014 before leaving the Panthers as a free agent in 2015 to join the Tennessee Titans. He started all 16 games — seven at left guard, eight at right tackle and one at left tackle — for the Titans that season.
To make room on the roster for Bell, the Packers released undrafted rookie free agent offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek, who signed with the team following the draft.