Offensive guard Ben Bartch sustained a knee injury that forced him to miss several games last year. He isn't a full-go yet, which prompted the Jacksonville Jaguars to place him on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform ahead of training camp. Head coach Doug Pederson met with the media on Day 1 of camp and said that he'd rather not share or put a timeline on Bartch's eventual return.
Pederson says that Bartch, along with defensive end Dawuane Smoot, is making progress. Although he didn't give an estimate, the head coach told the media that he could start getting reps towards the end of training camp, just like the Jags did with James Robinson last year but Bartch is "still a few weeks away" from returning.
"Don't like to put timetables on guys but he'll start PUP camp and Smoot will be the same way", Pederson said in regards to Bartch. "Those two guys will be PUP but he's progressing well and will continue to show and monitor his progress".
"Optimistic, maybe like James Robinson was a year ago in camp and towards the end of camp, maybe getting them in there and getting him in the mix but still a few weeks away", Pederson said.
Bartch, a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, was Jacksonville's starting left guard in the 2022 opener. Unfortunately, a dislocated knee forced him to miss the last seven games of the season. Earlier this year, Pederson said that there was a chance the former St. John Johnny would not be available for training camp, and it looks like he still needs time to recover. Here's Pederson's exchange with the media on Day 1 of camp.
The Jaguars have options to replace Ben Bartch will he fully recovers
All things considered, it makes sense for the Jaguars not to rush Bartch's rehab and expose him to further injury. While he recovers, the coaching staff can lean on veteran Tyler Shatley, who's made 30 starts at all three positions on the interior offensive line over the last three years.
Being a vested veteran allows Shatley to step into the starting lineup at any given time. While Bartch could be ready for Week 1, Shatley could step in his place. His experience also gives the Jaguars' brass the flexibility to give reps to their younger offensive linemen. In particular, Cole Van Lanen and rookie Cooper Hodges could get extensive practice time while Shatley recovers.
The downside of not being able to suit up is that Bartch is entering a contract year, which will make it difficult for him to prove he deserves a long-term extension. The good news is that once he returns to the lineup, he'll be incentivized to play the best football of his career and prove he deserves to get a hefty payday next offseason.
Working in Bartch's favor is that the regular season is still more than a month away, so he'll have a chance to get 100 percent healthy. While it's uncertain whether he'll be ready for the opener, it looks like he getting closer to returning to the football field.