Playing nearly every one of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive snaps during the preseason, Yosh Nijman did more than just earn a roster spot.
He also earned the coaches’ trust — to the point that head coach Matt LaFleur and his staff were willing to start Nijman against the San Francisco 49ers and edge rusher Nick Bosa on Sunday night.
Playing without five-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (on the physically unable to perform list while coming back from last year’s season-ending knee injury) and Pro Bowl left guard-turned-left tackle Elgton Jenkins (inactive with an ankle injury suffered during last week’s victory over the Detroit Lions), the Packers could have gone with experience and shifted veteran right tackle Billy Turner to the left side and started veteran Dennis Kelly at right tackle.
Instead, offensive line coach Adam Stenavich went with Nijman in the Packers’ 30-28 victory over the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California — and the soft-spoken Nijman delivered.
“Earlier this week, I was talking to Steno, and I said, ‘Who do you want there?’ And he said, ‘Yosh.’ (And I said), ‘Yosh? Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘All right, let’s do it,’” quarterback Aaron Rodgers recounted after absorbing just one sack in the game.
“Yosh, he’s a very soft-spoken quiet guy, great young kid. I’m just really proud of the way he battled. I mean, he’s going up against one of the top three premier pass rushers in the game for most of the gam. And, we gave him some help, because you’ve got to — Bosa’s such a stud. But there were times where he had no help, and I thought he held up real well.”
Nijman, who had played only during his third training camp in Green Bay played nearly every offensive snap the Packers had in preseason at left tackle — 157 of 176 snaps (89.2%) against the Houston Texans, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills — after Stenavich told him he needed to be more than just a developmental prospect and instead evolve into a reliable backup.
“I was very excited about Yosh and how he played this preseason. (I) kind of challenged him to see if he could take on the role of being a guy we can count on. I thought he did a good job,” Stenavich said following the preseason finale. “For him, it’s just understanding the different nuances of the system and being able to translate that on the field, blocking different looks, reacting to different scenarios. That’s the biggest thing he’s had to learn, is just how to handle himself. Even though a play might be one way versus a certain front, it’s completely different versus a different front. It’s just learning how to play fast versus multiple looks.”
The Packers also went young next to Nijman at left guard, choosing to start second-year man Jon Runyan instead of veteran Lucas Patrick. Patrick started the season-opener at New Orleans but suffered a concussion on the offense’s final play, and Runyan got the start against Detroit. LaFleur said the two would compete on a week-to-week basis, and even with Nijman making his first NFL start, the coaches opted not to put an experienced player next to him.
That meant the Packers had four youngsters on their line to start the game: Nijman, Runyan, rookie center Josh Myers and rookie right guard Royce Newman. Only Turner, who stayed at his right tackle spot, had started more than two NFL games before Sunday night.
“My mindset was like, it didn’t matter who was playing left tackle or right tackle or center. We have a standard in this offensive line room and I knew I had to step up,” Nijman said. ”I just want my teammates to know they can count on me. I’m just grateful they were supportive of me all the way through, even before the game. Just giving me positive affirmations of really trusting me and believing in me. I took that and I rolled with it along with the confidence I have that I could go out and play and help this team win a game.
“I think I just needed the first drive to get the jitterbugs out. I think later on in the game, I kind of settled down a little bit, got in the flow of it and everything. With that mindset, I was trying to stay cool, calm and collected.”
Nijman definitely struggle initially against Bosa, with the Packers’ opening possession short-circuiting after the offense drove to the San Francisco 15-yard line and Nijman being involved in much of what went awry.
On first-and-10, Bosa got past Nijman and batted quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ pass into the air, with Rodgers grabbing it (his third career reception on a pass he’d thrown) for a 4-yard loss. On the next play, Bosa beat Nijman on a pass rush, and Nijman grabbed onto Bosa’s facemask for a 15-yard personal foul, making it second-and-29. And then, Bosa pushed Nijman back into the backfield and took running back Aaron Jones down for a 4-yard loss, making it third-and-33.
After that, though, Nijman and the rest of the line settled in.
“It was great to see those guys step up and play really good ball,” LaFleur said. “(Nijman) did an outstanding job. We knew that he’s a guy that is so even-keel that we knew if there was anybody that wouldn’t be fazed by what he was going to encounter, it was Yosh. Couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Adams suffered chest injury, not concussion
After lying motionless on the field after absorbing a wicked hit from 49ers safety Jimmy Ward with 7 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game, Packers wide receiver Davante Adams eventually was able to walk off under his own power. One play and one timeout later, Adams had been in and out of the medical tent on the sideline and was back on the field — even to the surprise of Rodgers.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Rodgers admitted. “You know in the league now the way things have gone, you can’t just come back on the field if it’s a head injury. So I realized it obviously must not have been a head injury. I went over and checked on him, (and) I looked at him and he gave me a thumbs up. To me that seemed like, ‘I just got knocked out and I’m fine.’”
What had actually happened, according to Adams, was that while Ward’s helmet had hit Adams in the facemask, Ward’s shoulder drilled Adams in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He said the medical staff saw right away that it wasn’t a concussion but a breathing issue.
“I’ve been hit like that plenty of times. It seemed legal at the time, but I was having more trouble breathing when I was on the ground,” Adams explained. “That’s what happened, so I feel like I took the brunt of it to the chest.
“How I’m able to get through it is, I’m different. That’s probably the main thing. I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff like that and just the mental toughness to get (back) in there … it wasn’t a concussion. On the sideline, they evaluated and saw right away I was straight. More than anything on the ground was my chest, having trouble catching my breath.”
King inactive with illness
After an up-and-down first two games, veteran cornerback Kevin King was ruled out earlier in the day Sunday with an illness, the team announced. The illness must not have been COVID-19 virus related, as NFL rules require players to be listed as such if that is the case.
Last week against the Lions, King had started at outside cornerback opposite Jaire Alexander, then moved inside to the slot position as rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes would come off the bench in sub packages. Stokes, who wound up playing 44 of the Packers’ 57 defensive snaps against the Lions, got the start Sunday night with King inactive.
Usual nickel cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who was limited to just 18 snaps against the Lions, returned to that role against the 49ers and had a crucial break-up on a third-down Jimmy Garoppolo pass across the middle to Mohamed Sanu to force a punt. Sullivan left briefly after a collision with 49ers tight end George Kittle but returned.
Stokes was called for a pass interference penalty in the end zone on a third-and-goal play in the final seconds of the first half, and the 49ers ended up getting a touchdown on the final play of the half on a 1-yard Trey Lance quarterback-keeper run around left tackle as the clock struck 0:00.
The 49ers’ last-second touchdown just before halftime was set up by a 68-yard kickoff return by Trenton Cannon after the Packers took a 17-0 lead on a 3-yard Jones touchdown run. … Rodgers was furious with Myers on a fourth-down play near the goal line when LaFleur decided to go for it and Myers snapped the ball early. The snap narrowly missed or grazed wide receiver Randall Cobb, who was passing by in motion and threw his hands up as he avoided the snap. … A week after lamenting missing Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a pair of open deep balls, Rodgers hit him for a 47-yard first-half gain. … The Packers lost inside linebacker Krys Barnes to a concussion during the first half and replaced him with Ty Summers. … Tight end Josiah Deguara, who suffered a concussion in the opener, returned to action and caught a 4-yard pass from Rodgers. The offense needed Deguara to return after losing tight end Dominique Dafney, who was set to play significant snaps in a fullback/H-back role against the 49ers but was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury on Friday.