For the first time this offseason, Zach Tom was taking starting snaps along the Green Bay Packers offensive line at the center position.
Taking snaps at center is something that offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said Tom would be doing this offseason prior to OTAs. However, before this most recent practice, the extent of Tom’s time there came either in individual drills or with the third team offense.
When Tom was with the ones, Josh Myers was working at center with the second-team offense. It’s also important to note that Tom’s entire day was not spent at center either—he played right tackle as well, with Myers then back with the starters.
Center was the one position on the Packers offensive line that Tom did not play last year. But he spent a fair amount of time there while at Wake Forest, playing over 1,100 total snaps lined up there, allowing no sacks and 11 pressures. While Tom played his final two college seasons at left tackle, GM Brian Gutekunst mentioned over the offseason that during the pre-draft process, the Packers identified center as Tom’s best position.
Compared to his rookie year, Tom is now 15 to 20 pounds heavier, in an effort to hold up better in the run game.
"“I’ve put on like 15-20 pounds in the offseason,” said Tom after Monday’s practice. “I think during the offseason, I was up to 315 at some point. I definitely feel bigger out there. I feel like I’m able to get a little more movement in the run game than I was last year. I feel like my anchor is better than it was.”"
Myers, meanwhile, is entering his third NFL season, but 2022 was his first full year after a knee injury kept him sidelined during a large portion of 2021. Myers held up well in pass protection, allowing three sacks, 13 pressures, and ranking seventh among centers in PFF’s pass blocking efficiency—although there were instances where miscommunications with blitzes or power rushers caused problems.
"“I thought it was a strong year,” Myers said during offseason programs via SI. “There was a lot of improvement, a lot of things that I’ve been working on. I think at this point, it’s mostly just like tweaks, subtle things in my game that I’ve been working on and trying to fix. It was a solid year. Just want to be better.”"
In the run game is where perhaps the biggest opportunity for Myers, and the center position lies. Aaron Jones would average 5.2 yards per rush in 2022, and AJ Dillon 4.2 yards, but both averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt when running behind Myers.
Through six training camp practices – five at full speed – I would categorize Myers’ play as up and down. Pressure from the interior defensive line up the middle has been a regular occurrence through most practices.
The Packers moving players around on the offensive line is nothing new. As LaFleur often says, it’s about putting the best five players on the field. It’s difficult to envision a best five for the Packers that doesn’t include Tom somewhere. In addition to his first team reps at center on Tuesday, he appears to be the front runner for the starting right tackle role.
Offensive line play is very much the sum of the parts being greater than the individual. Even with a very good left side, the overall offensive line unit will struggle if the right side is bad. So in determining where Tom is going to play may come down to where the biggest gap is—whether that be between him and Nijman at right tackle or him and Myers at center.
"“First year, Josh played seven games,” said offensive line coach Luke Butkus. “So last year was, again, almost like he was a rookie. Josh is doing everything he can. He’s working his butt off, I don’t think anybody works harder than Josh. He just needs to keep working like everybody else. We’re going to get better and we’re going to push each other and get better every single day. Now, (it’s not) that he (isn’t) meeting our expectations. That’s not what we are talking about. He just needs to keep working and get better just like everybody else.”"