GREEN BAY – The double knee braces are bulky. When he runs, Josh Myers feels like weights are strapped to his legs. They’re inflexible, which of course is their purpose, considering they’re used to prevent his knees from bending the wrong direction.
When Myers reached the NFL a year ago, the last thing he wanted was to wear the double knee braces. After years of using the braces to protect his knees in high school and college, Myers ditched them as he caught up to NFL speed. Then he tore his MCL and fractured his tibia on the first drive at Soldier Field last October, forcing a 10-game hiatus following knee surgery that derailed a promising rookie season.
Myers instantly regretted playing without added knee protection. No, the double braces are not comfortable. Myers said his legs wear out easier. It’s more difficult to bend coming out of his stance. To him, wearing the braces is now just a minor sacrifice.
He doesn’t plan on taking the braces off again.
“After the surgery,” Myers said, “I kind of just decided that one knee surgery was good enough for me. I really didn’t feel like having two.”
The Packers don’t feel like having almost three months without their former second-round center again either. Myers is the lone constant on an offensive line full of moving parts. If it isn’t Yosh Nijman and Cole Van Lanen swapping between left and right tackle with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins on the sideline recovering from torn ACLs, it’s rookies Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom working their way into the guard rotation. All around Myers, there is musical-chairs chaos.
How deep into training camp that will last, nobody seems to know. Even Bakhtiari isn’t guaranteed to return for the start of camp, despite missing all but 27 snaps last season with rehab.
“Time will tell,” coach Matt LaFleur said Tuesday near the conclusion of the Packers’ offseason program. “We fully anticipate him being ready to go, but we did last year as well. So I think time will tell, but we feel good about the work he’s put in and where he’s at.”
That sentiment wasn’t far from the uncertainty Aaron Rodgers showed when asked about Bakhtiari’s training-camp availability.
“He’s been working really hard,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully training camp he’s full go, good to go. But I know he’s been working hard and itching to get back out there.”
Myers’ availability can’t be a problem, especially on this offensive line. He knows the Packers need their starting center to be a cornerstone in the middle. When healthy, Myers showed glimpses of potential to be the 10-year NFL starter he was projected coming out of Ohio State. He allowed just 3½ pressures in 363 snaps, none of them off target.
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His absence last season was not only difficult, but new. A year earlier, Myers tore his sesamoid bone near the end of his final college season. He played the rest of the game, and all of the national title game less than two weeks later, with the bone rolled up under the ball of his foot.
There was no pushing through this knee injury. For the first time, a player who’d never missed a game because of injury didn’t know when he’d return to the field.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Myers said. “It was an incredibly difficult time, if I’m being honest. I’ve never missed time for an injury. I’ve had injuries, but I’ve never missed time for them. So that was tough, but it’s just like anything else, you’ve kind of got to get through it and figure it out day by day as you go. That’s pretty much how I handled it.”
Myers said the truncated rookie season was enough for him to get a solid grounding in LaFleur’s offense. He went through the entire offseason program last year, then all of training camp. He learned how meticulously Rodgers latches onto every detail, how demanding his quarterback can be, from his cadence to pre-snap reads.
It gave Myers enough film to know what he needs to work on entering his second season. Myers said he’s focused this spring on being crisper with his steps, how to set up blocks. He’s also still learning the intricacies of an offense that uses a fullback, something Ohio State didn’t incorporate.
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“It’s larger,” Myers said of LaFleur’s playbook. “It’s slightly more detailed. Don’t get me wrong, Ohio State’s playbook was large and detailed too. It’s just a different level here.”
The biggest lesson from his rookie season might have been the familiar, bitter way it ended.
Myers said the Packers’ playoff loss to San Francisco felt similar to Ohio State, which won four Big Ten championships in Myers’ career, but never the national title. Myers’ last college game was a 52-24 drubbing against Alabama in the national championship game. A year earlier, the Buckeyes’ season ended with a 6-point loss to Clemson in the national semifinal.
Then Myers was drafted to potentially the NFL’s most talented roster in 2021. It still wasn’t enough to clear the elusive title hurdle.
“It goes through my mind a lot,” Myers said. “I’ve had the fortune or misfortune, I guess on how you look at it, of being really close a lot in my career to a ring. Whether that be a national championship in college, or a Super Bowl in the NFL. So being close but not quite being there has been something that’s motivated me the last several offseasons.”
Myers is willing to do whatever it takes to get over the hump. Even if it means wearing the double knee braces.
It’ll be an adjustment, but Myers knows the one thing worse than being uncomfortable during a play is not being on the field at all.