2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Offensive Line

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The Packers can always count on Josh Sitton on the offensive line.

Packers offensive line:  The Packers have invested a significant amount of resources into their offensive line over the last three years. Two first-round draft picks (Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod), a notable free-agent signee (Jeff Saturday) and a few contract extensions (Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang). Despite all that investment, the offensive line is still nowhere near the level of the Packers’ skill position groups.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects;

  • Bryan Bulaga (1st round)
  • Don Barclay (undrafted)
  • Josh Sitton (4th round)
  • Evan Dietrich-Smith (undrafted)
  • T.J. Lang (4th round)
  • Marshall Newhouse (5th round)
  • Derek Sherrod (1st round)
  • Greg Van Roten (undrafted)

 

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Bulaga: There are all kinds of questions swirling around Bulaga right now. Will he ever be the pro-bowler many think he’s capable of being? Will he move to left tackle in 2013? What do we make of his dismal start in 2012? Can he stay healthy? That last question is probably the most important. I don’t think Bulaga was 100 percent healthy to start 2012, and that was part of the reason he struggled so much early. Whether he moves to the left side depends on a lot of things: What is Derek Sherrod’s status? Does Mike McCarthy want a more physical line? Does Ted Thompson draft another tackle in April?

Don Barclay: Assuming Don Barclay doesn’t leave football in order to pursue a career as the next great wrestling jobber, he should get a shot at starting in 2013. Ideally, I think the Packers would like to use Barclay as the sixth man on the offensive line, sort of like Evan Dietrich-Smith has been used most of the last two seasons. But if Barclay has to start, the Packers probably won’t panic. Barclay is kind of a poor man’s version of T.J. Lang: Physical, goes all out, versatile, lacking a bit in pure talent.

Sitton: Plug him in and forget about him. As long as Sitton is healthy, he’s one of the better guards in the league.

Evan Dietrich-Smith: Is this the Packers center of the future? He was hit and miss after taking the starting job from Jeff Saturday. I’d like to see what he does with a full offseason and training camp entrenched as the starter. Dietrich-Smith spent most of his career playing guard and center. At the same time, if the Packers draft a center and move Dietrich-Smith back into his sixth-man role, I’d be fine with that too. I’m guessing Dietrich-Smith is going to be the guy going forward. The tricky part of the Packers is not talking him up too much as they try to sign him to a multi-year deal.

T.J. Lang: I’ve brought this up a few times, and I’ll do it again now: Could Lang be trade bait? Lang is good, but not great. He’s also young and signed to a fair contract. That’s the type of player who could be dealt for a decent return without drastically setting the team back. Dietrich-Smith, Barclay or a draft pick could probably adequately fill-in for Lang. This is me playing fantasy GM, but I think it’s something to keep our eye on.

Marshall Newhouse: What to do with Mr. Newhouse? He’s inconsistent, but he ended the season playing well. Does that mean Newhouse has made the leap from average to pretty good? I don’t know. Then there’s the issue of run blocking. Newhouse isn’t very good at it. Do the Packers want to try and find a more complete left tackle? Or do they want to stick with Newhouse, try and make him a good to great pass blocker, and live with his lack of run blocking? Like the center position with Dietrich-Smith, the answer to the questions around Newhouse may be answered by what the Packers do in the draft.

Derek Sherrod: If you thought there were questions about Newhouse, wait until you dig into the Derek Sherrod situation. His health, his ability, his desire, his position — all are question marks. Ted Thompson’s last three first-round draft picks ended up on injured reserve last season. The Packers can’t afford to pick players high in the draft who end up on the sidelines. Sherrod can be a major player in 2013. Or he can be a major bust.

Greg Van Roten: Let’s see where Van Roten is after an offseason in the weight room. Right now, I think he’s undersized, but he’s young. If he gets bigger, he could get a look at center somewhere down the line.

So that’s where we are. Next let’s look at…

Where we want to be:

The Packers need to get tougher up front. Teams with Super Bowl aspirations should be able to pick up 3rd and short on a regular basis. The Packers can’t, and I put a lot of that on the softness of the offensive line.  Aaron Rodgers holds the ball for a long time, so the Packers sack numbers are usually going to be on the high end. I don’t necessarily always hold that against the offensive line. But when you get stuffed over and over on 3rd and 1, and when your running backs always seem to be crashing into a wall of defenders, that’s on the line. I’m not sure if Newhhouse ever will be an effective run blocker, but Lang, Dietrich-Smith, Sitton, Bulaga and Barclay seem to have the skills to step up their run blocking.

How do we get there?

I don’t make predictions for the draft. Ted Thompson makes more in one year than I will make in 20 years to study college players and make draft picks. He’s going to draft the best player on the board that he feels can help the Packers. If that’s an offensive lineman, great.

I don’t think there’s a need to sign a marquee free agent up front. If anything, depending on how the draft goes, the Packers might want to consider signing another player at tackle for some depth in case Sherrod is useless and Bulaga gets hurt again.

Improving from within, a popular theme most offseasons with the Packers, will hold true for the offensive line. Sherrod is a first-round pick. He should be able to push Newhouse and make the left tackle spot better, whether that means Sherrod takes over or Newhouse improves. Dietrich-Smith will have a full offseason to improve at center, assuming the Packers re-sign him. A high draft pick also could improve the position. Sitton should be his usual pro-bowl self and if Bulaga comes back healthy, right tackle should be worry-free. Barclay got some valuable experience this season and should only get better and be ready for however the Packers want to use him in 2013.

Improving from within isn’t a very exciting offseason blueprint, but it’s what the Packers do. More often than not, it’s worked.

Another issue to watch is where Bulaga will play. My gut tells me that he’ll stay on the right side and the Packers will go with Newhouse, Sherrod or a draft pick at left tackle. We shall see.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam\\\'s writing on the Packers here.

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  • QOTSA1

    I really don’t see the logic of trading Lang. He’s a decent guard, but you can find a guard in the draft or free agency, so I don’t see why a team would give up a draft pick for him. His contract is inexpensive this season, but goes up substantially in 2014-16.

    “Does that mean Newhouse has made the leap from average to pretty good?” I would be happy if he made the leap from below average to average. I hope Sherrod is healthy this year so he can compete at LT.

    I don’t think there is any question about Sherrod’s position if he is healthy. He should be at left tackle, the position he played all through college. I think the Packers trying him out at guard during his rookie training camp was a mistake that delayed his development.

  • Pete Kliman

    A good tough back would make them all look better. A younger Benson type.

    • Dobber

      This isn’t an OL that has shown that it can sustain blocks and get to the second level consistently in the running game. I don’t think it’s a bruiser that they need, but rather a quicker, one-cut guy. Preferably someone with good hands who can be a reliable outlet guy…oh, and who can pick up the blitz effectively.

      That’s not too much to ask for, is it? ;)

      • Pete Kliman

        Got him, Harris.

      • Thomas Hobbes

        At the price that the Packers are willing to pay, yes

  • Ron LC

    Bulaga – was his early season poor performance compared to his near all-pro performanc in 2011 due to the injury that finally put him down? Was that performance just due to poor play? I don’t know but they better be sure before the season starts.

    Barclay – like his energy and aggressive play. Like to see him get a bit biiger and a bit stronger.

    EDS – Just because he was better than Saturday doesn’t mean he’s a starting center. Remember SF charging AR up the middle in the playoffs. Could use help at center.

    Lang – good player. Versitle!

    Sitton – all-pro

    Newhouse – can’t run blcok at all. Can’t handle the speed rushers. Improvement at LT is a must. Newhouse must get better or a change is needed.

    Sherrod – even as a rookie he demonstrated his upper body strength was not up to par for an NFL lineman. His long, long recovery from a broken bone is worrisome. He needs to be ready to play at the beginning of training camp. If not, he’ll not be any help for the line this year.

    Van Roten – don’t count on him.

    Has the perpetually injured Florida State tackle, drafted in the 7th round last year (sorry his name escapes me this morning and I’m too lazy to look it up),recovered and able to challange any of last year’s regulars?

    In summary the Oline still needs upgrading and an attitude change at some positions. As pointed out in other posts, there maybe some high quality Centers available at 26. My favorite is Travis Frederick.

    • ThomasMagnumPI

      Datko is the LT from FSU.

      Frederick at 26 would make me puke, but a good, versatile interior lineman from the 3rd-round on would be fine by me.

    • ivy guy

      Have to disagree about vanroten. Looks like he grew 1/2 inch since season ended. i see him work out. Up to 315 lbs and very strong, very determined. saw him bench 400 the other day like it was nothing.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I’ll say this much, when Barclay ended up the starter, they choose to promote Van Roten over Datko from the practice squad, I think that says as much as you need to know about both players.

  • Tarynfor12

    Never mind what rd these guys were drafted in…how many of these guys are solid players.Lets look at them on a level of what other teams see them as..

    1)Sitton-Not one team would pass him up.
    2)Bulaga-Most teams would take him.
    3)Lang-Could have some teams make their starter a back-up.
    4)Newhouse-Limited to chance takers or really needy.
    5)EDS-Swenke as a rookie would put him on the bench for his career duration.
    6)Barclay-Run teams yes as a back-up who have time to wait.
    7)Sherrod-Struggled at every aspect even before the injury and that injury makes him more suspect coupled with the time loss.
    8)Van Roten-A practice squad guy who is if one OL guy is drafted,he’s gone.

    “Despite all that investment”

    One 1st=Bulaga
    One 1st-a NEED reach-Sherrod
    Two 4ths-‘The’Sitton and a Lang
    One 5th-Newhouse
    Three-UDFAs-Barclay,EDS,Van Roten.

    “Despite all that investment” LOL

    It would be less funnier and more understanding if we had the next Clifton and Tauscher lying in wait.

    Getting a Lane Johnson and a Swenke to play with Lang,Sitton and Bulaga would justify the words..”Despite all that investment”…not this group.

    • ThomasMagnumPI

      Characterizing Sherrod as a need-reach is complete BS, and saying that he struggled in all aspects of the game while playing OG is unfair. He was put there to light a fire under Lang’s ass, that’s it.

      Let’s see what he has to offer after a complete rehab and an complete offseason of NFL-caliber coaching before we crucify the guy.

      • Tarynfor12

        IIRC,Sherrod was the pick and I’ll stand behind the reach part to take over for Clifton and the fact that Newhouse beat him out and the fact that he didn’t move Lang out from LG and being a 1st rd pick….he failed at every aspect to date.Can or will he make a splash come this camp???? or is it more likely he will offer less than he did when healthy and lost out???
        He NEEDS to show some serious stuff to erase what has been so far.

        • QOTSA1

          Sherrod was not a reach in any way, he was pretty much a consensus 1st round pick. The Packers made a big mistake trying to move him to left guard in a strike shortened training camp. He had always played left tackle, and as Thomas pointed out, he was only put at guard to light a fire under Lang, and I think that hurt his development.

          Lane Johnson will be long gone by when the Packers pick, and to say Schwenke is an automatic upgrade of Dietrich-Smith a bit of a projection.

    • Dobber

      You have to give the scouting dept. and the GM some credit for finding guys that, position by position, look like this in terms of investment of picks at most positions: UDFAs and mid-late round picks, with a high pick peppered in there.

      What would this Packers team look like if there was a little more raw talent so it was more true teaching than “coaching up”?

  • BubbaOne

    It’s the off season, time to think out of the box so here goes. If one of Sherrod/Datko/Newhouse can be a solid LT and Barclay can continue to progress at RT then maybe Bulaga can move back to LG (I think he could be a pro bowler here). Lang could move to C. An interior of Bulaga/Lang/Sitton along w/ what Barclay showed in the run game would improve the OL in both the run and pass game.
    W/ these players along w/ EDS, Van Roten and the 3 PSers (Hughes, Gibbs Gerhart) I don’t think the OL is as weak as some think.

    • ThomasMagnumPI

      Interesting, but I would rather move Barclay to OG/C than kick Bulaga inside.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Ironically you are one of the few people that seems to think the Packers swiss-army knife approach to the O-line is a positive thing. I’m not say it’s wrong, but you’ve got 4 out of 5 O-line players moving, which is a lot to ask of all of them. Lang never played center in college nor does he have any experience in the pro’s so there’s no indication that he could make the transition. In my opinion Bulaga was decent at guard, but if he has the capability to play to play tackle well then you have to stick him there. Personally I think Barclay is more of a interior linemen and he didn’t grade out all that well at RT, even with lots of help from tight ends and running backs.

  • carl lambert

    All these oline players have talent,it dose not seem as though Kampen can get
    it out of them.A new couch might be the
    ticket.

    • Oppy

      I’d love to get a new couch before the season gets underway :)

      • JimR_in_DC

        Yes. A real comfy one. :)

        I agree about Campen, his unit never seems to a strength for the team.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      One question everyone has is the swiss army philosophy of offensive linemen his idea or something he has to do from higher-ups? I don’t know if this means anything, but the Journal Sentinel seems to think that Campen has OC/HC potential, so take that for what it’s worth.

  • Stroh

    Packers OL is largely in place for the next couple years unless a blue chip LT falls to the Packers in the draft which is unlikely since Johnson has moved up to a mid 1st.

    Bulaga is fine at RT, and I’m against moving him to LT. He struggled at RT against the better pass rushers he faced. Why would he be much better at LT than Newhouse (who btw got a postive pass blocking grade from PFF).

    Sitton is a very good and close to Pro Bowl RG. He’s going nowhere.

    EDS will continue to get better at Center. Just like Wells, he’ll get better at Center every game he plays. Fans wanted anyone but Wells his 1st year starting too. He became a Pro Bowl Center. Its a position that is developed.

    Lang is a good ascending LG. Not going to the Pro bowl or anything but a good solid starter. He’s locked in at LG unless Cooper falls in the Packers lap, and then I still think Cooper would be moved to Center.

    Newhouse improved last year. He went from getting help alot in ’11 to being left on an island most of the year. He’s gotta continue to get better pass blocking. Newhouse might end up like Clifton. Good pass blocker but he’ll always be a weak link in run blocking. He and Sherrod if he’s healthy, will have a competition at LT.

    Most OL take about 3 years to become good players. Newhouse is entering his 3rd year as a starter and was a project to begin with. Sherrod is similar to Newhouse, except he was a much more experienced and advanced pass blocker coming from the SEC. Both aren’t good run blockers. With Newhouse getting alot of experience the past 2 years it’ll be close to see who wins the LT job. Any LT drafted after the 1st is gonna be a project that might take 3 years to become better than what we have.

    The Packers OL is largely set as is. They just need to all stay on the field and develop the chemistry that takes time. If they are all healthy, I think the OL will be much improved from last year.

    Barclay is better at OG than he is at OT. He should be a backup inside. Datko and Sherrod/Newhouse will be the backup OT.

    I wouldnt expect alot of changes on the OL. Just like Clifton, Wahle, Flannigan, Rivera, Tauscher they need to play together to get better. If they stay healthy the OL won’t be an issue.

    • Oppy

      agreed

    • Oppy

      Although, OL is a position I believe you continually invest in. They should always be looking to upgrade and develop OLmen, especially tackles.

      • Stroh

        I think they have players to develop at OT. Newhouse should continue to get better, Sherrod will develop and Datko is certainly a developmental OT. Move Barclay inside and have him gain 5 or 10 lbs.

        • Oppy

          I don’t think the Packers need to move Barclay inside, I think he’s always been thought of as a guard.

          He was used on the edge to prevent having to shuffle the line around when injury struck.

          Barclay is a guard, I think since day one.

  • PatMc

    The only OL that will make an immediate improvement is Frederick. He can back up both guards and EDS at center. Yes he is big, power guy. He also will take care of the middle that is the problem (if EDS can’t). Power NT will not bull run him into Rodgers. The running game will improve.

    Last year Lang was helping out Newhouse early on. Bulaga went out and Lang went to Right tackle. Then EDS was LG with Saturday at C. It was a sieve line.

    This year Lang stays at LG, EDS at C and sitton at RG. Frederick will back all three with minimal coaching up.

    RT is bulaga if healthy. LT is NEwhouse to lose. Both Datko, Sherrod will compete for LT/RT. Barclay will compete for G/T backup. If tackles are not ready then TT needs to find F/A or draft a LT (or RT if Bulaga is moving over)

    Drafting a 3rd round OL will not improve the team this year and maybe not next year.

    • Stroh

      I would say Lang was too busy helping out Saturday all last year to have time to help Newhouse. Saturday was far worse than Newhouse was.

      I agree drafting 2nd round or especially 3rd round OL won’t have an impact. Frederick is a poor fit for the Packers who require movement ability from Centers. I don’t they would ever consider drafting Frederick. Maybe Schwenke in the 3rd. There won’t be an OL that is a 1st round talent and fits the Packers left in the 1st. Cooper is unlikely and if he was drafted I think the Packers would put him at Center, but it would take a year for him to become the starter. Fluker is a poor fit and bad pass blocker, so he’s not going to help and might get Rodgers killed. I don’t think any 2nd round OL would start for the Packers for a year or more.

      Thompson will certainly use a pick or 2 on OL, he always does. But it won’t be till the 3rd at the earliest IMO.

  • Scott 1956

    It looks like everybody is happy with the O-Line. Sitton is the only really good player on that line. Newhouse is a disaster! Lang is average, EDS only started a few games.Bulaga was good against bad teams, and not good at all against good teams. Barclay will be a good backup. They were 2nd last in sacks given up! And they were 26th in rushing! They can’t do either very well. And it doesn’t help that McCarthy goes pass happy the bigger the game gets. They need a LT and probably a Left Gaurd. That ZBS is an abstract failure. You’ll need a bigger Gaurd because the Defensive Tackles and Nose Tackles are getting much, much bigger!

    • Oppy

      Bulaga and Lang were both beat up throughout the season and it affected their performances noticeably.

      We should look to upgrade at LT, but Newhouse was NOT the “disaster” many fans would like to make him out to be. He’s not a good run blocker, but he’s not a bad pass pro guy. He still needs to improve, and we should look for better (always at LT), but he wasn’t a bad LT last season.

    • Dobber

      …an “abstract” failure?

  • Adam Czech

    I don’t get why people think Newhouse is terrible. Take a look at the LTs around the league. There’s not much there. Newhouse is fine. Yes, there’s room for improvement and the Packers should upgrade if someone better comes their way, but you can say that about any position on the Packers besides QB, RG and whichever OLB spot CM3 lines up in.

    You don’t need an All-Star left tackle when you have a QB like Rodgers. Sure, it’d be nice to have, but it’s not a make-or-break position as long as you have a stud QB.

    • Scott 1956

      Maybe it’s the 22 sacks in two years. Maybe it’s because when we see him against a good pass rusher we KNOW he’s in trouble. I was surprised to hear that besides all the sacks, he also gave up 39 QB hits! You cannot have an experiment on the QB’s blind side. You need someone you can count on. After 2 seasons, you cannot count on Newhouse.

    • Scott 1956

      Also you have it backwards. It IS a make or break position because you have a stud QB.

  • Buddy

    Let me ax you guys a question. It seems to me we run alot to the right side. But not real successful, so if the best opponents pass rusher comes from the left side why don’t we run to the left side? Or do we and I just don’t see it?
    I am kinda torn between the couches (lol)get the best from the talent they draft or the couches just are not doing the job,sorry I do not watch the lines very well.

    • Two Bears, One Cup

      Better pass rushers are on the left side but the left tackle tends to be a better pass blocker than run blocker (see Clifton, Chad). Also, it’s possible that the running backs are more comfortable going right – this is just a guess, but going right they would keep the ball in their right hand which probably results in fewer fumbles.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I think really the Packers were all that good at running the ball from any direction. Also at this point of the game, defenses often switch their linemen so running to the same side doesn’t always mean you’ll be seeing the same players.

  • lambeauleaper

    If Jonathan Cooper fell to us at 26,I think that would go along way to taking care of our offensive line problems!Then maybe we could try Lang at center or use him as trade bait to move up in the Draft.

    • Stroh

      I think if we draft Cooper, who is a possibility, if he falls a little, the Packers would move him to Center. Cooper played mostly OG in college, but his best Pro position is probably at Center. Would he be better than Lang at OG, yeah probably. But he would be an even bigger upgrade over EDS at Center.

  • timj36

    i thought bulaga was very solid until the seattle game when he got beat like a rented mule.I always hear sitton is good but he plays a low visible position so I guess when you dont hear his name thats a good sign. E.D.S. remains to be seen.thought he did well last year at guard when he held his own against suh and the lions.nothing to say about lang.average.newhouse doesnt cut it.he was fine as a emergency fill in but they need stability and more athleticism , strength.sherrod worries me.couldnt win the job as a rookie most of the year.packers try him at guard early.why? maybe they thought he doesnt have what it takes at lt.then he breaks his leg in scrub duty late in a game which set his development behind and he couldnt make it back onto the field almost a year later.barclay showed guts and did as good as he could have in that situation.