Josh Walker may have earned a spot on the Packers roster
Josh Walker lacks experience. He does not lack confidence.
And as he hits the final stretch of preseason, the Green Bay Packers unheralded offensive lineman has made believers out of his coaches and teammates, too.
“I’m sure some guys who are in my position, they think they’re on the fringe – ‘Am I good enough to do this? Do people believe in me?’ That’s never crossed my mind,” the Packers first-year guard/tackle said. “I know I’m good enough to play at this level. I think that confidence is a big key factor moving forward for me – knowing I can do it, having the confidence every day to come out and do it. I think that’s huge.”
Although he has been far from perfect, Walker has improved throughout camp and is making a powerful push for a spot on the 53-man roster. With the team’s five starters back and three viable backups with something he lacks – regular-season experience – Walker entered the summer knowing he’d not only have to show improvement but versatility.
He’s done both. Against Philadelphia on Saturday night, he started at right guard in place of T.J. Lang (concussion), then shifted to right tackle when Bryan Bulaga left with a sprained ankle. At Pittsburgh last week, he played right and left tackle.
Even though Walker looks like a tackle – he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 328 pounds – he only played guard in college at Middle Tennessee State after playing tackle in high school.
“I get that a lot,” Walker said. “I can definitely play tackle. But in college, I was better utilized as a guard because we didn’t have guys to play guard or were big enough to play guard. So I got good at it. That was just my position. Now here I am, learning tackle, and come to find out I can play tackle.”
Walker signed with Indianapolis after going undrafted last year, then was cut from the Colts’ practice squad after two weeks. The Packers signed him to their practice squad Sept. 23, and while he worked mostly at guard on the scout team last year, offensive line coach James Campen told Walker after the season that he’d best learn tackle to give him a chance to make the roster in camp.
“I said to myself, ‘If that’s how I’m going to have to make the team, that’s fine with me.’ The more I started working at tackle in the offseason, the more I was like, ‘You know what? I think I can play tackle. I’ve got the feet to do it,'” Walker said. “I really worked on my footwork and my tackle fundamentals. I think I’m ready to play it.”
This is not to say that Walker is a finished product or even a lock to make the roster. Don Barclay, JC Tretter and Lane Taylor would seem to be the next three in line for roster spots before the starting five, and while Barclay struggled in the first two preseason games, he was appreciably better against the Eagles.
But no offensive player on the Packers’ roster has played more preseason snaps than Walker (143), and he figures to start the preseason finale Thursday against New Orleans. At the very least, he’s forced his way into the discussion for a spot on the 53.
“He’s more comfortable because he knows the plays and he has that practice squad reps, but really, he did a really good job this offseason,” Campen said. “The improvement he made in the offseason is helping him now so that he can work on fundamentals and footwork and hand placement, and the fact that he doesn’t have to think about the plays because he’s had it [helps, too].
“He’s got some issues here, some here. I think it’s good for him to switch back and forth and it’s obviously good for us for flexibility. He’s done some good things.”
Walker has done well in 1-on-1 pass-blocking drills – although highly subjective, his record stands at 17-3, according to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky – and Pro Football Focus has Walker with a higher pass-protection grade than run-blocking grade so far in preseason.
“I knew coming into it that Green Bay, we throw the ball. You’ve got to be able to protect ‘12′ if you want to be able to play,” Walker said of NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. “That was a huge emphasis for me in the offseason. I’ve got to have my feet right, I’ve got to be able to pass block.”
Perhaps most impressive about Walker is that he manages not to come off as full of himself – or delusional – when he self-assesses with comments like “I think I’ve had a great camp” and “I have all the physical tools to play both positions.” He seems to understand that while he believes in himself, he also has a long way to go before he’s earned his keep.
“I’ve got two great guards [in Lang and Josh Sitton] to learn from, and Bulaga,” Walker said. “Three of those guys I’d consider some of the best offensive linemen in football, and the two younger guys (left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley) are well on their way. So what an awesome group to learn from.
“[Confidence] is everything. You kind of have to go to a different place to do what we as offensive linemen do, and if you don’t have confidence, you’re going to play slow. You’re going to play sluggish. It’s not only confidence in yourself, but confidence in knowing the playbook. That’s when you can go out and play fast.”