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.——————