Marshall Newhouse started 11 games at left tackle last season, and all things considered, he did an admirable job. While the second-year player from TCU gave up too many pressures and sacks, he generally held his own. And while generally holding his own may not sound all that impressive, for last year’s Packers, it was good enough. By not resembling a human turnstile at arguably the second-most important position on the team, Newhouse allowed the offense to put up record numbers and allowed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to capture the league’s MVP award.
It would be fair to say that the soft-spoken 23-year-old saved the season after Chad Clifton predictably broke down in week 5. It would also be fair to say, based on what’s happened – or hasn’t happened – over the past few months, that GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy aren’t totally comfortable with the idea of Newhouse protecting Rodgers’ blind side for another 16 games. How else can you explain Clifton and his $5.6 million salary still being on the roster?
Yes, I’m aware that the Packers don’t owe Clifton any real money until the start of training camp in late July, but he still counts against the cap – a cap that is already tight and will only get tighter in the coming weeks. And yes, I’m aware that a team can never have too much depth on the offensive line, but the injury-prone 36-year-old isn’t being kept around to be a backup. Even at a reduced salary, that would make little sense for a couple of reasons. One is that Clifton has never once come off the bench in 12 seasons – something that is much easier said than done. The other is that he rarely practices during the week, so playing in games is the only way he can keep his skills intact.
If Thompson and McCarthy truly believed in Newhouse, they would’ve dumped Clifton weeks ago. Not only is he making a lot of money, but the truth is, he wasn’t playing very well prior to suffering a serious hamstring injury last October. The former Tennessee star didn’t look like the same player who seemed to find the fountain of youth late in the 2010 season. His run blocking was even worse than usual and he was getting beat in pass protection by ordinary rushers – something that almost never happened in his previous 154 starts. It looked like Father Time had finally caught up with Clifton, and as we all know, once Father Time catches up to you, there’s simply no getting away.
And yet, Clifton is still a member of the Packers. And as long as he’s healthy following minor back surgery, he’ll probably still be a member of the Packers 18 weeks from now when Aldon Smith and the rest of the 49ers come to town. “There’s definitely a possibility,” said McCarthy. “We haven’t taken him off [the roster], so he’s someone we’ll continue to talk about and get the reports. He’s down in Tennessee now, so we’ll see how he recovers. It’s a medical decision. That’s what it will come down to.” It wouldn’t come down to a medical decision if Thompson and McCarthy had more faith in Newhouse. If they truly believed he was the answer, Clifton would be a memory by now.
To be fair, a lack of faith in Newhouse isn’t the only thing keeping Clifton around. The broken leg suffered by Derek Sherrod is also helping his cause. There’s not a doubt in my mind that last year’s first-round draft choice would’ve been the starting left tackle heading into training camp had he not gotten hurt against the Chiefs in week 15. He was really coming on after a slow start, and unlike Newhouse, he’s the prototype for the position. Blessed with long arms, good balance, quick feet and the ability to get out in space, the former Mississippi State star only needed a full offseason of intense work to win the job. He won’t get that now and therefore he remains a question mark.