11

June

Offensive Linemen Musical Chairs, 2014 Edition: who stays, who goes?

Outside of special teams, nothing is more confusing, more obfuscated or more esoteric than offensive line play; We all know that Joe Thomas is supposed to be one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL right now, but do you or I really know that?  I’ve never watched a game specifically focused on Thomas (which would of course require me to watch a Browns game…..so no thanks), and I suspect that even Browns fans probably haven’t really paid all that much attention to him.  The only real reason I know of Joe Thomas at all is 1) he went to Wisconsin and 2) I’ve been told he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL today.  At least with other positions, there are splash plays or statistics we can fall back on whether it be sacks, yards after the catch, Dwight Freeney’s spin move, the back shoulder catch etc.  But for offensive linemen, none of that really exists; the “pancake” has never really gotten off the ground as a established metric of offensive linemen success nor does a great block ever make the Sportscenter highlight reel.  Add on top of that there are actually 5 positions on the offensive line, and we get a confusing mess of contradictory statements; offensive linemen must all work together, but each have different jobs.  Tackles are tackles and guards are guards, except some are left tackles but not right tackles and some are right guards but not left guards.  Center is a unique position, unless it isn’t and you put a guard in there.  There is a distinct difference between “interior” linemen and “bookend” offensive linemen, unless of course you kick your tackle to play guard.

In all of that, the Packers are faced with a conundrum; there are 5 positions and traditionally 2 backup positions, making 7 offensive linemen total.  What I’ve done is made a mental excercise of some combinations of offensive linemen that are likely to happen when the Packers roster is reduced to 53.  A couple rules: I’d highly doubt the Packers carry any more since offensive linemen aren’t all that useful on special teams meaning they’d almost always be on the inactive list.  Of course the Packers have had more than 7 offensive linemen in the middle of the season due to injuries and what not, but its obviously not their first choice.  Also there needs to be a backup for both tackle and guard; supposedly there is a significance between the two but Ted Thompson probably disagrees since the vast majority of offensive linemen that have been on the Packer’s roster were college left tackles.

Locks to make the team: Josh Sitton, TJ Lang, David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga - I don’t think there’s much argument that these four players will be on the Packers 53 man roster come week 1.  Of the bunch Lang and Sitton have been the most impressive as well as the most consistent; both were paid quite handsomely and have arguably been worth the money so they aren’t going anywhere.  Bakhtiari was the surprise of the 2013 season who ended up playing left tackle for the entire season after initially being drafted as potentially a center.  While I think many fans seem to have forgotten he wasn’t actually all that good last year overall, being a 4th round rookie and getting thrown to the wolves right from the get go gives you a pass somewhat and I am optimistic that he will improve greatly in his sophomore campaign.  Bulaga is probably the trickiest of the bunch; he was one of the up and coming offensive linemen but has been hampered by two consecutive freak injuries which leaves his future a little in peril; my guess is that Bulaga ultimately wins one starting tackle position (not sure which one though), at very worst there aren’t 3 other tackles on the Packer roster better than him.

Option 1: Derek Sherrod, Don Barclay, JC Tretter/Corey Linsley – If it’s keep the best players available, then this is likely the rest of the group.  Derek Sherrod is still a 1st round pick and since the Packers didn’t pick up his 5th year option, his salary is minimal and the Packers will always try to get a return on their investment (see: Justin Harrell).  Don Barclay becomes the interior swing man who also provides insurance in case Sherrod gets injured again or can’t overcome his previous injuries while JC Tretter and Corey Linsley duke it out for the right to be Aaron Rodger’s pivot.  Both Linsley and Tretter are eligible for the practice squad (due to his injury last season, Tretter was only active in 3 games and thus did not accrue one year of experience), so it’s likely who ever fails to get the spot immediately gets signed to the practice squad.  One issue is that both Tretter and Linsley are mid round draft picks and it’s unlikely that Thompson prefers to let either one of them go.

Option 2: Don Barclay, JC Tretter, Corey Linsley - At some point that Packers just decide to cut their losses and give up on Sherrod (ironically Sherrod is one game over being practice squad eligible as well).  The Packers feel its not worth the risk of carrying an injury prone offensive linemen that might never regain his form after a horrific injury and see enough in both Tretter and Linsley that they keep one as the starting center and the other as the swing interior linemen.  Don Barclay stays on the team and serves as the swing offensive tackle.  Obviously it would take quite a lot for the Packers to release Sherrod; as a 1st round pick of the new CBA, his salary is very manageable at a little over $1 million (and basically all guaranteed) and has the best measurables of all the offensive linemen.

Option 3: Derek Sherrod, JC Tretter/Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor – In terms of economics, Barclay is the most expendable tackle as a former undrafted free agent and is unproven as a guard.  The Packers decide to keep dark horse Lane Taylor (another surprise addition to last year’s squad), who was a guard in college and played there for the Packers last season.  Derek Sherrod shows enough in the tank to warrant him getting the backup tackle spot with hopes that he resigns a modest 2nd “prove it” contract while JC Tretter and Corey Linsley fight for the starting center position with the other taking a spot on the practice squad.  Personally, I think Barclay is good enough for this not to happen, but the Packers would be sticking a square peg in a round hole by having both Barclay and Sherrod on the team (since neither is all that proven at guard)

Option 4: Derek Sherrod, Don Barclay, JC Tretter/Corey Linsley/Lane Taylor – In a stunning turn of events, Don Barclay actually emerges as the starting center, Derek Sherrod then naturally becomes the backup swing tackle while Tretter, Linsley and Taylor all fight for the last spot as the reserve interior linemen.  Out of all the possibilities, I think this scenario would be the Packers dream situation; head coach Mike McCarthy has already swooned at how Barclay can play all 5 spots on the offensive line and gives him potentially the most experience line combination.  Of course the lynch pin to all of this is Barclay at center, and unfortunately Barclay has already tried his hand at center before with disastrous results; I’m not sure how much center he has been practicing during the offseason, but with a healthy Tretter and finally a true center in Linsley on the roster, I highly doubt there is enough time to experiment more with Barclay at center.

Overall, I think this exercise highlight really how difficult and fluid the offensive line is to predict; can either Tretter or Linsley rise up to be the center (and what happens if neither is any good at center)?  How good could Tretter or Barclay be at guard (both were tackles in college).  Could Barclay potentially be a center?  How healthy is Derek Sherrod truly?  Do the Packers want to commit to the run and keep Lane Taylor, who is a mauling run blocker?  Who do the Packers think they can hide away on the practice squad?  How sold are they on Derek Sherrod’s long term performance?   All these questions need to be addressed and hopefully all the answers will be known by the time the 1st game rolls around.

 

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al\'s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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---- Get AddToAny

32 Responses to “Offensive Linemen Musical Chairs, 2014 Edition: who stays, who goes?”

  1. NYPACKER says:

    There is no way that they put either Linsley or Tretter on practice squad, as they would be signed by someone else immediately. The other 1-2 spots will be between Sherrod, Barclay, & Lane. Sherrod (health) is the wildcard.

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    • Stroh says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • NYPACKER says:

        IDK…81% of 5th round draft picks make the active roster in their first year, I think it would be very risky to put Linsley on practice Squad.

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  2. The Clinic says:

    Anyone know if Linsley can long snap? That would open a roster spot.

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    • Mojo says:

      Hmmm… interesting thought. I did find this on Linsley: “Packers offensive line coach James Campen took questions from the media about Linsley a little while ago, and called him “a really good long snapper,” a necessary fundamental in the team’s Aaron Rodgers-run offense, and a staple of the spread offense used by Ohio State”

      Now I think they were talking about the center to QB shot-gun snap, but still would be an interesting way to save a roster spot. Plus with Linsley’s strength and bulk he would be better blocking and covering kicks than Goode. Plus he could back up at center and guard, Goode doesn’t But don’t think it would happen. No way they’d mess with the psyche of Crosby after he came around last year. Nice thinking outside the box though.

      As far as the o-line grouping, I think it’s most likely to be option 1. Barclay is a lock in my opinion. The coach loves him and he probably can play all five positions. Sherrod if he’s competent, would provide back-up at both outside positions. I think Tretter would have to stink it up not to win the center job. I believe he will be up to the task. Then the question becomes what to do with Linsley…

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  3. Archie says:

    Tretter will be our C for the next decade. I’m an often critic of TT’s drafting acumen but his back-to-back R4 picks two years ago of Bakhtiari and Tretter needs to be lauded.

    Bulaga will get another chance to stay healthy for the whole season.

    Bakthiari will keep the LT spot.

    You don’t hold on to Sherrod this long only to let him go when he is finally ready to play.

    Barclay is a keeper.

    Throw in the two starting guards and you are at 7. TT will keep 8 or even 9 OL this year because of the expiring contracts on both Bulaga and Sherrod. That would give both Taylor and Linsley a spot. If they go with 8, Linsley could last on the practice squad given his athletic limitations.

    I don’rt see much liklihood of much drama on the OL cutdown. And if there is a major injury, the situation becomes even simpler. The more difficult cuts will be on the defensive front 7. There’s a lot of bodies there. How good any of them are is difficult to assess given their youth and injury history. For me, that’s the major focus of “player development” during TC. Good to hear TE and S are showing positive early signs. Also lots to watch at WR and RB. But, like I said, it’s all about whgat we can get out of our DL/LB that will determine this team’s fortunes in 2014.

    Worthy
    Thornton
    Boyd
    Jones
    Guion
    Raji
    Daniels
    Neal
    Perry
    Peppers

    Lots of youth and potential but many are on last chance. And who emerges at ILB? If it’s another year of Hawk/Jones, that will be difficult to overcome.

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    • SchenySchen says:

      Agreed that if Tretter becomes the starting C for the foreseeable future, TT will have really hit paydirt with those 2 4th round picks. That entire draft is looking better and better if that plays out. Need Jones to become an impactful starter and it will be an incredible haul. Jones,Lacy,Bak,Tretter,Hyde,Franklin. GoPack!

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  4. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    Have the packers ever started the season with fewer than 8 Offensive Linemen?

    Neither Tretter nor Linsley would make it to the PS, not with the kind of draftable grade each one had.

    Barring injury that means Bakhtiari, Bulaga, Sitton, Lang, Tretter, Sherrod Barclay, and Linsley all make the squad.

    Lane Taylor or one of the practice squad/undrafted rookie types might be a 9th OL or make it in case of an injury, but I think they stick with 8 and an extra PS guy for in-season depth. I’ll be interested in seeing what Fullington, Vujnovich and Adams bring to the competition.

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  5. Todd Hansen says:

    Historically, the packers have kept 8 offensive lineman on the roster with seven being active on game day and one inactive. Expect both Tretter and Linsley to make it along with Barclay. The choice comes down to Sherrod’s recovery vs. Taylor’s growth and long term potential.

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  6. TheVOR says:

    The a comment here, I don’t view Don Barclay as a lock. He was being beaten like a drum last season at RT. Where this becomes difficult is experience vs. athleticism. Without question Barclay has the experience to move around, he’s versatile. IMO the issues are around basically, is he talented enough? Are there better backup choices? I was a fan of Barclay in his rookie campaign, be he was basically terrible last year.

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    • Ed Schoenfeld says:

      I think the question iis really whether Barkley + experience > any other option on gameday. Linsley, Taylor, and any of the other PS-type guys could have some developmental upside, but they are still developmental. So even if barkley is not exctly a ‘lock,’ it seems to me he starts with a significant lead for the 6th or 7th spot.

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    • Nopainnogain says:

      I agree and I think there’s been a tendency to overrate Barclay just due to the fact that people had extremely low expectations for him to begin with and he exceeded them. I think it’s kind of the same for Bak. They both struggled at times, esp. in the runblocking. however, both are still young and have more experience than the alternatives and aren’t bad at pass blocking. Barclay may not be a great starter but I think he is fine as a “break glass in case of emergency” option for both tackle & guard. Taylor, Sherrod, Lindsey or Tretter are mysteries.

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  7. big o says:

    You know this is a good subject, but I find myself hoping there is someone on our roster that can keep 300 lb animals off Rodgers BLINDSIDE!! That’s not asking to much, is it???

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    • Scheny Schen says:

      Bak is your man. He is stronger and heavier this year to fend off the bull rushers he couldn’t handle last year. GoPack!

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    • mike says:

      last year the pressure came through mostly the rightside and when the waste of space newhouse was playing. barclay needs to add more weight he when playing rightside got pushed around . but the left side did a great job you cant stop all sacks but the left side stopped way more than the right side

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  8. Katsuya says:

    My early prediction is the starting 5 will be Bahktiari, Sitton, Tretter, Lang, Bulaga. With the 3 backups being Sherrod, Linsley, and Barclay.

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    • Stroh says:

      I tend to think that’ll be exactly the case. Tho I could also see Taylor possibly beating out Linsey for a job and Linsey going on PS. I’m fine w/ either really. IMO Taylor has a legit shot of beating Linsey out of a job.

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  9. aaronqb says:

    We are in June and in the middle of OTAs. The linemen haven’t even put on the pads yet and we are already laying out scenarios.

    Here are a few things to keep in mind:
    1) The Packers generally keep between 7 and 9 OL on the 53-man roster. They have begun the last 2 seasons at 7.
    2) Three tackles are in the last year of their contract – Bulaga, Sherrod, and Barclay. Barclay would be a RFA (assuming he is tendered); Bulaga and Sherrod would be UFAs. This may factor into the 53-man decision. In fact, if there is a promising young tackle among the UDFAs, they make get a roster spot because of this.
    3) 7 OLs are almost always active on game day. The guys on the 53-man that are inactive are either: injured, developmental players.
    4) Injuries aside, I would be shocked if Tretter is not on the 53-man. The Packers would have re-signed Dietrich-Smith if there was any doubt about Tretter. No way does GB go into the draft without a guy who can be a starting center. In my mind, Tretter is a lock.

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  10. mike says:

    sherrod i can see not being there maybe even barclay he did get pushed around pretty good last season as our weak side went from left to the right where he played . alne taylor is another i can see letting go. i really dont see us paying what bulaga and his agent will want next year due to he cant stay healthy so maybe we keep barcly or sherrod to fill his spot in 2015 but i dont thin sherrod will get a huge contract after riding the bench 3 years

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  11. Slim11 says:

    I also question whether Barclay makes it this season. Several here, along with MM, mention his ability to play all five positions on the o-line.

    Last season, he was given some practice snaps at center, and did not do well according to reports. His shotgun snaps were especially troublesome according to those reports. Does anyone know if he’s been working on improving as a center? If he has…great. If he hasn’t improved, then it’s a problem.

    If Linsley can long-snap, that could be huge as MM values versatility from his o-linemen.

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    • Stroh says:

      I don’t see him being able to play all 5 positions. LG, RG and RT for sure, Center maybe, but he would be terrible at LT. He has a lot of versatility which is important for backup OL. Just his versatility makes him valuable enough for a roster spot even if he isn’t the most talented player.

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  12. I think GB keeps 8 OL on the roster this year: Bak, Sitton, Tretter, Linsley, Lang, Barclay, and Sherrod if healthy. Issues arise only if Lane or an UDFA pushes hard and shines in preseason games. The 7 man active list on game days is another matter, but Barclay likely will be on it.

    I have high hopes for Tretter, but do not really understand why some are assuming he will play center at a reasonably high level. (Clearly, the starting center job is his to lose.) But he has not played. Yes, the coaching staff saw him in practice last year for the last several weeks and he seems to be doing well in OTAs, and that’s better than getting negative reports. But GB also watched McMillan for a whole year, and watched him play in actual NFL games, yet decided not to draft a safety, and he busted. I also note the TT broke tradition and drafted a true college center, not a conversion project, someone who could compete at center immediately. That could be hedging a bet, or Linsley could have been the BPA, or best o-lineman available. I do like the talent on the offensive line, and hope the guys develop in time for this year.

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  13. Big T says:

    Word on the street is that TT misses Marshall Newhouse terrribly and is working on a huge trade to get him back.

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