It took Green Bay Packers rookie offensive lineman Zach Tom all of two days to get into the first-team huddle at left tackle, a premium position along the offensive line and the protector of Aaron Rodgers’ blindside.
On Thursday, after playing left tackle with the second-team group to open camp on Wednesday, Tom lined up at left tackle with the No. 1 offense.
Part of it is a necessity: the Packers are without David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, who are both on the PUP list to start training camp. And the team lost Billy Turner and Dennis Kelly this offseason, so offensive tackle is a position lacking depth to start the year.
“We’re down on tackles, we’ve got a couple of guys out,” Matt LaFleur said Thursday. “You look at guys who could potentially fill in if need be in that role. He has that experience.”
Tom, the Packers’ fourth-round pick, started 23 games at left tackle for Wake Forest and was excellent on the edge, especially during a standout senior season which included a shutdown performance against first-round pick Jermaine Johnson.
Tom said his goal at this point of training camp is to earn the trust of coaches and teammates.
His size (6-4, 304) was viewed as a mitigating factor during the pre-draft process, but Tom is almost exactly the same height and weight as David Bakhtiari coming out of Colorado, and the Packers are prepared to give the rookie an opportunity to compete at any position along the offensive line.
“We’re not going to limit Zach to any one spot,” LaFleur said.
In 2013, Bakhtiari – also a fourth-round pick – moved into the starting left tackle job due to an injury to Bryan Bulaga and never gave the spot back.
Comparing a rookie to a five-time All-Pro might be a stretch, but their paths are starting to look more and more similar.
Tom has also played some guard to open training camp, and he’ll be in the mix as a backup center behind Josh Myers.
“The more you move younger players, the harder it is for them to get their footing at a specific position,” LaFleur said. “But he is a smart guy, he’s got a great mindset and mentality. It’s not going to be perfect, we realize that, but that’s part of the process.
Tom said his goal is to be a five-position player at the NFL level. LaFleur acknowledged the difficulty of the idea but is confident a player like Tom – with his combination of intelligence and athleticism – can get it done.
“It’s a great challenge,” LaFleur said. “We’ve got a saying, if that’s his expectation, his work ethic better exceed his expectation. A lot of it is going to be on him to go out there and do it. He certainly has the intelligence and athleticism to do it.”