Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Should Barclay stay at RT?

Packers RT Don Barclay

Packers Beer MugWhen T.J. Lang went down with an injury, the Packers’ offensive line depth was tested.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was already on the injured reserve with a hip injury, forcing the Packers to turn to undrafted rookie Don Barclay to fill Lang’s shoes. Nicole Richie thinks the Packers are thin on the offensive line.

But fortunately for the Packers, Barclay came in for Lang and filled in admirably at right tackle. Sure, the rookie from West Virginia had his fair share of speed bumps, but overall, he made the most of his opportunity and has earned the respect of his head coach.

Now, Packers coach Mike McCarthy faces a tough decision. Does he think the offensive line is a stronger unit with Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, or Barclay at right tackle?

Playing Barclay at right tackle would allow Lang to kick over to his natural position of left guard. Lang and right guard Josh Sitton are one of the league’s best young duos on the interior of the offense line. But as a right tackle, Lang is an average player at best. So, the question is:

Will Barclay remain the Packers starting right tackle?

In the format of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, let’s take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half full” or “half empty.”

THE MUG IS HALF FULL

With Lang’s status still up in the air, McCarthy admitted we may be getting ahead of ourselves in considering Barclay as a starting right tackle. The team will learn more about Lang’s injury on Wednesday.

However, the possibility still remains that Barclay could be inserted into the starting lineup.

The Packers are notorious for playing “musical chairs” on the offensive line. Many people disagree with their philosophy of rotating players around into different positions. But McCarthy has always been adamant on putting the best five linemen on the field, and Barclay is at least being considered as one of the top-five right now.

“I thought (Barclay) did a nice job,” McCarthy said. “It’s pretty much what I thought last night when I left here. He went into the game, we tried to protect him a little bit there in the 2-minute drive. Then really at halftime we made some protection adjustments – not really adjustments – which way we were going to lean on in the second half.”

With Barclay at right tackle for most of the afternoon, the Packers enjoyed perhaps their best game of the season running the football. James Starks and Alex Green carried the ball 27 times for 124 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought in the run game he was physical, that’s a trait that we really like in Don. I thought the pass protection, a lot of his things were technical. I thought he did a solid job,” McCarthy said. “When a rookie comes in for his first time in game action and you’re able to keep playing throughout your gameplan, I think that’s a big credit to him.”

For the most part, the Packers were able to run their normal offensive sets with Barclay in the lineup. But perhaps the most important part of the debate is whether or not the offensive line is a better unit with Lang at right tackle or left guard.

After filling in for Bulaga against the Jaguars, Lang has started the past three games at right tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Lang ranks 58th among the 75 offensive tackles that have played at least 25 percent of their teams offensive snaps.

But when Lang has been at left guard, he ranks 37th among 79 players at the position. His grade at guard–plus-0.6–is far better than his grade at tackle–negative-3.4.

It’s pretty safe to say Lang is a better player at offensive guard than he is at tackle. But still, that doesn’t mean Barclay is any better at tackle than Dietrich Smith is at guard.

THE GLAFF IS HALF EMPTY

Statistically, Barclay wasn’t any better than Lang at right tackle.

With only one regular season NFL game on his resume, Barclay’s sample-size may be too small to form a justifiable opinion, but his Barclay’s grade of -3.1 is barely lower than Lang’s -3.4 through four games.

And obviously, as a rookie, Barclay is an inexperienced player right now. Dietrich-Smith has started only six games in his NFL career, but he still has more experience than Barclay.

The Packers clearly like Evan Dietrich-Smith. If they didn’t, they would have at least considered Barclay once Bulaga went down to injury.

The experience factor tilts the debate in favor of Lang remaining at right tackle and keeping Dietrich-Smith at left guard. Dietrich-Smith is in his third season with the Packers, and his comfortability with the scheme may outweigh the potential of Barclay being an everyday starter at right tackle.

McCarthy gave Barclay some assistance on Sunday with both tight ends and running backs. And although Barclay and Lang have performed similarly at right tackle, McCarthy may be more comfortable with Lang matching up one-on-one on opposing pass rushers instead of Barclay.

And prior to Lang’s injury, he was having his best game of the season at right tackle. Lang played 31 snaps and graded out as a +-.1, whereas Barclay’s -3.1 grade was the result of 53 offensive snaps.

Perhaps Lang was just starting to get comfortable at the position before he got hurt.

GETTING THROUGH THE FOAM

So, what’s the answer? Are the Packers a better team with Dietrich-Smith on the offensive line or should they go with Barclay?

After seeing the undrafted rookie play just one game, there’s simply no way of knowing the answer to that question.

However, if the Packers feel that Dietrich-Smith’s average performance as a starter and Barclay’s decent showing on Sunday means that Barclay deserves at least another chance as a starter, then they’ll probably give him another look. And if Lang is forced to sit out this week against Detroit, the Packers will get their first glimpse of Barclay as a starter.

Playing the Lions with an offensive line consisting of Marshall Newhouse, Dietrich-Smith, Jeff Saturday, Josh Sitton and Barclay would be less than ideal, without a doubt. However, that scenario could make the coaching staff’s decision between Barclay and Dietrich-Smith a bit easier.

As of right now, I like the idea of keeping Barclay in there at right tackle. My eyes tell me that Lang is more comfortable on the inside instead of the outside, and I don’t think there’s much of a gap between Dietrich-Smith and Barclay.

So if the two players under debate are relatively even, then I’m in favor of putting the third-wheel–Lang–at his best position.

But whatever the Packers decide to do with their offensive line, I just hope they decide on a group of five and stick with it. It’s better to put all your chips behind one unit than continue to second-guess yourself and shuffle people around when the going gets tough.

Nobody knows what McCarthy and his team will decide to do. One way or another, we’ll all learn more about what’s to come on the offensive line on Wednesday. Typically, McCarthy stands by his team even when things aren’t going smoothly.

But this offensive line is tearing at the seems, and Barclay may be the breath of fresh air it needs for the playoff push.

Editor’s Note: Seems this is unofficially “Don Barclay Day” here at ALLGBP.com… 

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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  • Rick

    My glass is half full, unless I am drinking almost any beer. Barclay played tackle for the last 3 years in college and didn’t let us down in a pinch. He’s a battler and will support the run as good or better than some of the others. Move Lang back to the left side and, hopefully, reduce our risk to one variable on one side.

  • Big T

    Barclay looks just as good as anyone else on that line, period… This has to be the weakest O-line in history. Don’t get me wrong here, I love these guys, but… Saturday can’t find his azz with both hands, Smith is on another planet he needs suh to stomp on him again, Barclay came in on the fly and played better than Lang, Sitton can hold his own, my grandfather can beat Newhouse around the corner. Them be the facts folks. Maybe Tony Mandarich is still available.lol

  • Thomas Hobbes

    I’m pretty sure no one has asked this before, but how the “glass is half full and half empty” argument where Barclay goes to LG and Lang stays at RT? I actually see a lot of similarities between Lang and Barclay, both were college tackles that are probably better suited to be guards in the NFL, both of them are more physical than finesse (at least judging by their scouting reports) and both lack the ideal dimensions of an NFL tackle (wing span, hand size, height etc). If Barclay is better than EDS at guard, I would keep Lang at tackle given his familiarity with the offense. On the flip side sticking Barclay next to Saturday would probably help any mental mistakes a undrafted free agent rookie would likely make.

  • Chad Toporski

    While I actually think Lang is the better option at RT, the one thing I keep coming back to is the idea that by putting Lang back at LG and keeping Barclay at LT, the offensive line really only has one position that is weaker than its original players. By moving Lang to RT and swapping in EDS at LG, there are now two “weak spots” along the line that have to be accounted for.

    It’s easier to send extra help to one side of the line than both sides. Hopefully Barclay can perform to a high enough standard where the coaches have no choice but to leave him there. Can’t say I’m holding my breath, though…

    • Turophile

      The question as far as I’m concerned is not the comparison between Lang and Barclay at RT. As far as I can see that is almost a wash looking at the small sample size we have. It is more about Lang being a much better guard than EDS. The difference is even more significant when Lang isn’t suffering from elbow and wrist injuries to go with the twisted ankle of last week.

      Paerhaps the best thing is to let Lang rest his ankle/wrist/elbow for a week, or maybe two, leaving Barclay at RT. Then if with the extra rest Lang is not too seriously walking wounded, put him back in at LG. I still like the idea of EDS at center, but this is probably not the time of year for that kind of experiment.

  • bobalou13

    Why not just go ahead, bite the bullet, and leave Barclay at RT, Lang back at LG and move EDS to center for an ineffective Saturday for the stretch run?