GREEN BAY – For years in Green Bay, the opening one-on-one replays between the offensive line and defensive front have often set the tone for practice.

It’s where David Bakhtiari once squared off with Clay Matthews and Kenny Clark first locked horns with Corey Linsley for a few snaps before giving way to other young players looking to hone their skills and maybe stand out. of the coaching staff.

Yosh Nijman has seen both sides. Once an undrafted free agent trying to make the 53, the 6-foot-7, 314-pounder has now graduated to the opening act, responsible for stymieing the rushing duo of Rashan Gary and Preston Smith in game one with – a period.

And Nijman has not backed down.

In fact, on Monday, the third-year veteran showed just how far he’s come with two competitive reps against Gary, the rising 23-year-old who has been one of the top performers in camp.

“He just keeps getting better and better every year,” Gary said. “Getting stronger, understanding different levers, different looks I’m giving him. I told him (Monday), ‘You’re getting a lot better with your hands.'”

Both 2019 NFL inductees, Gary and Nijman have seen a lot of each other in practice over the years, despite the fact that they came to Green Bay under completely different circumstances.

Gary was the Packers’ first of two first-round picks (12th overall) that year, while Nijman was one of 11 college free agents the Packers signed after the draft ended.

After a rookie season spent on Green Bay’s practice squad, Nijman made the Packers’ 53-man roster in 2020, but saw just 95 snaps (14 offense, 81 special teams) in 16 regular season appearances.

Only Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins were sidelined last year, and Nijman’s number was seriously called. The 26-year-old proved to be a reliable force at left tackle in eight regular-season starts, earning praise from quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his dedication, poise and skill.

“I was just waiting for an opportunity,” Nijman said. “Like everything in life, you work and wait for your chance. When you get your chance, all the work you’ve done—all the hard work—you put it to the test along with the faith you have in your work that you did”.

Beyond Nijman’s size, the Packers’ personnel department saw plenty of natural ability and athleticism in the former Virigina Tech tackle when they signed him in 2019.

It was just a matter of offensive line coaches Adam Stenavich and Luke Butkus sharpening Nijman’s fundamentals and letting the young man’s work ethic carry him from there.

After getting fired last year by Stenavich, Nijman stepped up as the emergency option at left tackle. Although a loaded Green Bay defensive front has presented unique challenges on the offensive line this summer, Nijman has answered the bell.

“You have to give him a lot of credit because he’s worked his tail off to get where he is now,” General Manager Brian Gutekunst said. “When you go out there, you can watch a guy that big move like that and you’re going to be intrigued.

“I’m excited for him. He’s really worked his way into a guy that’s going to have a long career.”

It’s been Nijman’s most active training camp so far, alternating between two tackle positions with the No. 1, as the Packers look to build their starting five on the offensive line for the 2022 season.

Coincidentally, with Bakhtiari and former Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins rehabbing significant knee injuries, Nijman has been the most experienced offensive lineman on the practice field, both in terms of age (26) and games played (33).

“I feel like with him, he was slowing down the mental game,” said Jenkins, a second-round pick in 2019. “Now being here for (three) years, knowing the offense, knowing things like that, I feel like he It’s going to get better than where it is now.”

While the Packers hope to bring back Bakhtiar and Jenkins in the not-too-distant future, Nijman is focused solely on finding his stride and coming up with the 800-plus snaps he’s played now to become a starter. complete somewhere.

And wherever the Packers need him, Nijman will be ready.

“It’s becoming a little bit of muscle memory in terms of playing games and what to do, how to prepare for it,” Nijman said. “It will definitely give me confidence going into this year.”

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