Bulaga To Left Tackle Is Right Move

Assuming Chad Clifton is released in the next few weeks, the Green Bay Packers will begin next season with a new starter at left tackle for the first time in a dozen years. That player will be either Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod or Bryan Bulaga.

Newhouse started 11 games at the position last season after Clifton suffered a severe hamstring injury in week 5, and while the final numbers weren’t very pretty (10.5 sacks, 41.5 pressures and 14.5 bad runs), the second-year player from TCU never backed down and rarely got dominated while lining up opposite a murderer’s row of pass rushers. Newhouse has ideal feet for the position, but he was inconsistent with his technique. His biggest problems were sloppy hand placement and a tendency to shuffle to cut off the rush instead of kick-sliding. These flaws will be addressed and hopefully corrected during the offseason. Whether that’ll be enough to turn him into an above-average left tackle remains to be seen.

Sherrod was really starting to come on prior to suffering a serious leg injury in December. Last year’s first-round pick may or may not be ready for the start of training camp, but he obviously won’t be able to take part in any minicamps and OTAs for a second consecutive offseason. That will put him at a distinct disadvantage if and when he reports to St. Norbert. Had Sherrod not suffered the leg injury, I think he would’ve been the odds-on favorite to replace Clifton. The former Mississippi State star has great size, long arms and above-average feet. All he needed was extensive work in the weight room and a ton of reps – two things that won’t happen now until the spring of 2013.

That leaves Bulaga, who started 12 games last season and proved to be one of the NFC’s best right tackles. And while nobody ever likes to move a Pro Bowl caliber offensive lineman, I think it’s a gamble worth taking. The former Iowa star may not have the ideal arm length to play on the left side, but everything else about him suggests he can more than adequately protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. Bulaga is a solid technician who can recover when he gets out of position and run pass rushers wide of the pocket. More importantly, he’s one of those players  who just refuses to lose. You get the sense that Bulaga would hold his own if asked to play corner (that’s hyperbole, but you get the point).

So those are the three contenders for the soon-to-be vacant (I assume) left tackle position. The Packers could begin next season the way they ended last season, with the hope that Newhouse makes as big a jump from year two to three as he did from year one to two. But why roll the dice when you have a player as talented and dependable as Bulaga on the roster? Let your best tackle play on the left side and let Newhouse continue to develop while facing lesser competition. Assuming Sherrod is healthy, he can back up both spots in ’12 and then compete for a starting job in ’13.

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Michael Rodney

Packer Update is the creation of a longtime fan. My name is Michael Rodney and I was a sportswriter in the 1990s. I worked full-time for a paper in Jersey but I still managed to get quite a few articles about the Packers published during that time. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing about the most storied franchise in the NFL.

7 Comments

  1. Archie 02/28/2012 at 8:35 am

    Hmmmm….tough call. Longt-term, if all goes according to Hoyle, Sherrod makes sense at LT. And, Bulage, makes sense at RT. And, Newhouse gives them a good swing player. Therefore, I say ride out 2012 as is. However, if the Pack chooses to follow your advice, I’m ok with that too. I just don’t think it is necessary and I think in this day and age, RT and LT are similar i.e., top pass rushers move around and target weak links. The only real difference is that when a LT misses, the QB won’t see it coming, which, admittedly, is not an insignificant difference.

  2. Terry 02/28/2012 at 12:14 pm

    I also think that Bulaga is teh better player and probably would make a pretty good left tackle. However, if the long run is to have Sherrod play left tackle, why not leave Bulaga continue to develop at right tackle. Newhouse played fairly well at left tackle and will be better this year. I think that one of the problems the Packers have had at offesive line under McCathy is that too many of the linemen are move around so much that they lose focus. I understand the desire for flexibility, but wait to move them around until they’ve nailed one position.

  3. Satori 02/28/2012 at 2:16 pm

    Continuity on the OL is something we hear about all the time, and while you can’t always plan for injuries, GB does have some flexibility in keeping the OL intact. We saw Clifton, Newhouse, Sherrod and Lang play OT last season

    IF Sherrod is the long term answer at LT, then moving Bulaga temporarily doesn’t make as much sense. If Bulaga is the long-term answer at LT, then now is the time.
    Let’s also consider that while in the past defenses frequently put their best rusher over the LT ( blindside)- that’s not always the case in today’s game. Note where Matthews lines up.
    Pass rushers move around a fair amount and DCs scheme to get them free. So its not a given that the LT will always see the opponents’ best pass rusher. We saw Julius Peppers and other DLs switch sides vs GB last season

    We also need to consider the fact that Rodgers rolls to his right much more frequently than to his left – meaning he is rolling away from the LT and the pass rusher on that side. That may be a response to Newhouse’s limitations, but we saw it with Clifton too. Right-handed QBs are more comfortable rolling out to the right side and MM in the past has noted he wants (2) “LT’s” protecting Rodgers. Perhaps Bulaga is just as valuable on the right as he would be on the left
    (I think we saw Clifton at RT for one series last year ?)

    Will be interesting to see what happens, both short term and long term

  4. Lars 03/01/2012 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t think Newhouse is the answer so I would agree with Bulaga a move to LT. We can talk “long-term” but the fact is Sherrod’s injury is just brutal and some even think career-threatening. It’s too bad but that’s the NFL.

  5. Don 03/03/2012 at 3:58 pm

    I read where Ted Thompson said that as far as a broken leg is concerned, once its healed its healed, unlike a repaired ACL/MCL injury. That said, I see Sherrod on the PUP list to start the season. I would leave Newhouse at left tackle and Bulaga at right.

    In 2013 my O-Line would be Sherrod LT, Newhouse LG, Wells at Center (must resign him), Sitton RG, and Bulaga at RT. Lang (as good as he is today at LG) would be my plug and play 6th O-Lineman.

    • Michael Rodney 03/03/2012 at 4:23 pm

      I think the Packers like Lang at LG and see Newhouse as strictly a tackle.

      • Henry 03/07/2012 at 11:26 pm

        Agreed. Newhouse is a outside player and Lang needs to keep developing specifically at LG. Buluga to LT for a season is fine. If he can play LT flipping back to RT isn’t that big of a challenge.

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