Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made quite a splash in free agency this past week. Gutekunst and the Packers brought in four free agents in the opening week of free agency. Three of those players, outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, along with safety Adrian Amos should help bolster the Packers defense this coming season. The signing of both Smiths appears to be getting the most publicity. Outside linebacker/edge pass rusher was in dire need of upgrading.
With both Smiths now in the picture, it gives Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine two young pass rushers who have the ability to get to the quarterback from multiple spots. The addition of Amos also helps shore up another weak spot on the Packers defense, the safety position.
All three of those signings were necessary for the Packers and their defense. But the signing that got our attention came on the offensive side of the ball. The signing of offensive lineman Billy Turner could be an instant hit for the Packers.
The starting right guard position, as well as a capable backup to starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, were both on the Packers wish list for this off-season. That is one of the reasons we highlighted Billy Turner in our piece about possible free agent offensive linemen targets for the Packers this off-season. During Turner’s five-year career, he has played all over the offensive line. Turner has seen time at left and right tackle as well as both guard positions. That type of versatility was probably one of the reasons that the Packers looked at and eventually signed him.
Billy Turner was a standout offensive tackle at North Dakota State University. He was a consensus FCS All American in 2012 and 2013. He was a part of three national championship teams while playing for the Bison. His standout collegiate career, along with a strong performance at the 2014 Senior Bowl, helped him get drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins.
His time with the Dolphins didn’t go the way that Turner and the Dolphins had hoped it would. In his two and half seasons for the Dolphins, he spent time at both guard and tackle, starting just 14 games. During the 2016 season, Turner was released after failing to live up to his third-round draft status.
Like with a lot of NFL players, it has taken Turner time to find his confidence. After his release from the Dolphins, and a brief stint with the Baltimore Ravens, Turner made his way to the Denver Broncos. Turner didn’t do much in 2016 for the Broncos, playing in just three games. The following season, Turner suffered a broken hand which limited him to just one game. But Billy Turner’s luck turned around this past season.
This past season, Turner saw time both at right tackle and left guard for the Broncos. As Jason B. Hirschhorn recently pointed out at acmepackingcompany.com, Turner gave up just three sacks last season. In all, Turner started 11 games for the Broncos. In his six seasons in the NFL, last season was his most productive. It was reported that the Broncos wanted to re-sign Turner. But the Packers made an offer to Turner that he couldn’t turn down.
While it has taken Turner time to develop, it appears the Packers are getting him at the right time. At only 27 years of age, which is considered young for an offensive lineman, Turner doesn’t have the same wear and tear on his body that some free agent offensive lineman have. He has played in just 40 games during his NFL career. His only injury that he has suffered as a pro is a broken hand. The injury is healed and comparable to other injuries, it is considered minor. After a solid 2018, it would appear that Turner is just hitting his groove, which should excite Packers fans.
It appears that Turner should be the top candidate to be the Packers starting right guard next season. Last season, the Packers tried three different players to fill the position. All three failed to seize the opportunity. Turner not only has the size to hold up in the middle, but he has the athletic ability as well.
With first-year Packers head coach Matt LaFleur installing a zone blocking scheme, Turner looks to be a perfect fit. His ability to play in space and move should help with the transition, especially in the running game. Last season with the Broncos, Turner was a part of an offensive line that helped rookie running back Phillip Lindsay rush for over 1,000 yards. LaFleur has said that he wants the Packers to run the ball more this season. With Turner’s success in run blocking, LaFleur should be thrilled to have Turner as his possible starting right guard.
Along with solving their starting right guard situation, they might have found a capable backup to Bulaga. As many Packers fans are aware of, Bulaga had dealt with injuries throughout his career. When healthy, Bulga is one of the best starting right tackles in the NFL. But his health has prevented him from being dependable.
During his nine-year career, Bulaga has only been able to play a full 16 game regular season schedule just once. What has hurt the Packers, even more, is their lack of capable backup behind Bulaga. Former second-round pick Jason Spriggs has been a major disappointment. When he has been asked to step in for Bulaga, he has struggled. Turner might become the Packers starter at right guard, but his signing now provides insurance if, or most likely when, Bulaga goes down.
The defensive players’ signings by the Packers grabbed most of the headlines. It is hard to argue that it shouldn’t. But the signing of Billy Turner might turn out to be the most important. Improving the defense will no doubt help the Packers become a better team. Still, the Packers chances of winning still lie with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Protecting their ticket to winning games is still at the top of the Packers list. Turner will be a major asset in building the run game that LaFleur envisions. But Turner’s ability to prevent pressure from the middle of the line will be at the forefront and will give Rodgers the chance to lead the Packers back to the playoffs.