Packer Update

How Will O-Line Look Next Season?

Right guard Josh Sitton is the only sure thing on the offensive line

Right guard Josh Sitton is one of the few sure things on the offensive line

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered between now and the start of training camp. One of them deals with the offensive line. There could be a number of changes in the group that is charged with protecting Aaron Rodgers and opening holes for whichever pedestrian back wins the starting job.

Here’s a look at how things stand with the offensive line as of now and how things could play out in the months ahead:

LEFT TACKLE: Marshall Newhouse showed improvement this season, but he’s still a middle of the pack left tackle. Can he get significantly better? That’s a question only the coaching staff can answer. If the answer is no, then Derrick Sherrod will be given every chance to win the job – provided that his broken leg is finally healed. After all, GM Ted Thompson didn’t draft Sherrod in the first round to sit on the bench. And don’t completely discount Andrew Datko, who spent the entire season on the practice squad. The former Florida State star was a more productive college player than Sherrod, and he has a chance to be a solid NFL offensive lineman if he gets stronger and his chronically injured shoulder can hold up.

LEFT GUARD: T.J. Lang began the season very well, but he was never the same after injuring his elbow in October. An ill-fated move to right tackle didn’t help either. He’ll be the starter at left guard unless the coaching staff decides to move him to center – something that was contemplated last offseason. As I wrote in March, I think Lang has the physical skills and smarts to be effective at the position. If he does slide a few feet to his right, Don Barclay could be his logical replacement. The undrafted rookie from West Virginia played surprisingly well at right tackle down the stretch. If he can hold up at that spot, it’s safe to assume he’d do just fine at guard. Barclay is big and surprisingly light on his feet. He needs to get stronger, and he should do just that after spending the next six months in the weight room.

CENTER: This is the position that hurt the O-line the most this season. Jeff Saturday had nothing left and Evan Dietrich-Smith proved in the playoffs that he’s a great backup but just an OK starter. The Packers need to add a bigger body in the middle of the line. That would make a significant difference in the running game. Assuming Lang stays at left guard, Thompson will probably have to use the draft or free agency to fill this spot. Another alternative would be Greg Van Roten, who was promoted from the practice squad in November and finished the season as the No. 7 lineman. A graduate of Penn, GVR has the intelligence needed to play the position. He also has the athleticism. But at 304 pounds, does he have the size and strength to compete with NFL defensive tackles? He doesn’t now, but August is still six months away.

RIGHT GUARD: This is the only position that is 100% set going into next season. Josh Sitton stayed healthy and played more like the stud who earned a big contract in 2010 than like the game but gimpy journeyman who got beat way too often in 2011. At 318 pounds, the former Central Florida star isn’t the biggest or the most athletic guard, but he’s as strong as an ox and as tough as nails. That, along with solid technique, usually allows him to get the best of his opponents. Sitton is only 26, so he should still be ascending. That’s great news for the Packers, but not such great news for the defensive tackles in the NFC North.

RIGHT TACKLE: Bryan Bulaga is expected back after injuring his hip in week 8 and spending the last two months of the season on IR. The former Iowa star struggled early, but he was playing much better prior to getting hurt. There’s always a chance he could move to left tackle and Barclay could remain at this spot, but I don’t see that happening. Bulaga needs to be more aggressive as a run blocker, but gives max effort on every snap and he usually provides steady pass protection. If this group is to be significantly better next season, Bulaga has to be as good as he was in 2011, when he played like a Pro Bowler.

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12 Comments to "How Will O-Line Look Next Season?"

  1. [...] The Packer Update is wondering How Will O-Line Look Next Season? [...]

  2. BubbaOne says:

    This is the time of year to think outside the box, so…
    If the staff thinks they have a good LT in Newhouse, Sherrod, or Datko and Barclay can be as productive as Mark Tauscher at RT maybe they move Bulaga to LG. If Newhouse loses out at LT maybe he moves to LG. On paper, having Bulaga, Lang and Sitton in the interior line is pretty formidable. There would be decent backups in the two losers at LT plus EDS and Van Roten.

    I like Barrett Jones from Alabama but he has a Lisfranc injury so TT may shy away.

    There’s also two OL on the practice squad. This from ESPN Wisconsin…
    OC Garth Gerhart was added to the practice squad last Tuesday, just in time for the team’s season-ending NFC Divisional Playoff loss to San Francisco. Gerhart entered the league as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona State with the Cleveland Browns and spent the entire 2012 season on the Browns’ practice squad.

    OG Joe Gibbs, a first-year player out of Tennessee-Martin, entered the NFL with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent in June 2010. He also played with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League before signing with the Packers’ practice squad on Nov. 19.

  3. Hands says:

    Considering that a few OLine guys will be drafted, I think IF Sherrod can come back, this is a position of strength and depth. As in all walks of life, you have to tailor your business to available talent. I may be the lone wolf here but I don’t think it’s an Oline issue as much as a system issue. Either Green Bay doesn’t think this line is capable of run blocking so they pass a lot. They pass on a system that seems to be timing vs. WCO. I think this is what has changed over the last year and Philbin being gone has created a creative void. Therefore Rodgers can’t get on the same page as his receivers and holds the ball too long and gets a lot of unneccessary sacks. I think this Oline is as good or better than NE when they are all healthy. GB has better receiver corp than NE and only worst in the group of RBs. Then why is NE better offensively than the Packers? I look for more running plays and the Oline to take charge in more games next year. Let’s see what happens to the offense and if MM can change back to an attacking style of play.

  4. Archie says:

    If the Pack decides to draft yet another OL in the 1st rd, the pick could be Barrett Jones, C, Alabama – Jones’ ability to fill in at multiple positions makes him a perfect fit in Green Bay.

    However, given the deficiencies of the defense, particularly the front 7, I think the Pack will be tempted to go there if their talent board supports the decision. The other possibility on defense is S. There is some quality and depth at that position in this draft.

    Another possibility is to jettison (trade?) Finley and draft the TE from ND.

  5. stroh says:

    I like the OL going forward. Basically need to figure out the LT and center spots, but there are good/decent players at both. Helps a lot if Sherrod can compete w/Newhouse for the starting job. I kinda liked Gerhart as a late round prospect last year. Give him a year to learn and he could pass EDS. Wouldn’t be opposed to using a 2nd or 3rd on a possible long-term answer st Center tho. Barrett Jones after a trade down is fine but wouldn’t take him at 26.

    Would like to see a physical playmaking Safety drafted high too. I like Reid from LSU quite a bit. Ogletree at ILB in the 2nd and the USC Center in the 3rd would be my preliminary preference. Have to see how things shape up after the Sr bowl and combine.

  6. Saguaro says:

    The health of Sherrod and Bulaga for next season and the ability of somebody to move over to take over center are the big question marks. Some of these young guys will surely get better, and most have already shown they are safe back-ups. There is a lot of upside to the O-line next season, but it is going to be a roll of the dice. TT will draft somebody to add to the mix, but I see lots of bigger holes to fill in other areas (RB, WR, DL, ILB, S, and OLB unless the light turns on for a healthy Perry). It would be nice not to have to worry about C and OT.

  7. Archie says:

    Capers to stay per MM.

    Walden not responsible for bad play on Capernik per K Greene.

    Finley has turned it around per MM. (I wouldn’t pay him what he’s due to stay – too unreliable and one-dimensional.)

    T Williams will have to fight to stay starter per Whitt (he’s been awful since his injury, especially vs run).

    No mention of Woodson, Hawk, Saturday or Jennings. All four probably are history. I’d add Jer-mike.

    Draft = heavy on defense one more time per me. Add a big, fast ILB and S. Maybe another OLB and/or DE.

    • Stroh says:

      Capers staying… Could go either way, as long as the 34 D stays. If they decide Capers should go, I’m ok w/ that too. If he is fired I would promote Perry or Whitt to DC.

      I hope Finley can be kept. Since he started meeting w/ Rodgers the nite before game to talk they have rediscovered the chemistry that was lost after Finley’s injuries and drop issues which also are gone. They never had enough good recievers for Favre, losing Jennings, Finley and Driver would decimate the recievers that Rodgers has. Driver not so much cuz he shouldn’t have been on the roster this year anyway.

      Saturday is gone thats a foregone conclusion. Jennings is too expensive to keep as he’ll be getting upwards of 14M on the open market. Hawk and Woodson are borderline. Of the 2 I would keep Woodson and release Hawk. The backups at ILB are much better than Jennings and McMillan at Safety. Jennings is at best a backup. And McMillan is a long way from being ready to start if that ever happens. I would look to draft a Safety in the 1st or 2nd. There are no Big and Fast ILB in this draft. The best ILB prospect is Ogletree from UGa. He is a Daryl Washington type, fast but smallish. He could put on some weight and play about 240 at Bishops spot and move Bishop to Hawks spot. I hope they can get him and Reid the LSU safety in the top 2 rounds, then get the USC Center Holmes in the 3rd. That would be the ideal IMO.

    • Terdell Middleton says:

      I hope they don’t write off Jennings too soon. If the market doesn’t throw $14M/year at him, I’d rather take him back at about $11M/year and let Finley go and save his $8M. Jennings makes more plays, is more consistent, and is better in the locker room. If Finley goes, we have DJ, Quarless, Crabtree, and Taylor – we would still do well with that.

      All this talk about the draft and no one talks about a RB? I guess people have accepted that RB is a low-priority / low-salary position in the TT / MM blueprint. But I wouldn’t assume that as a foregone conclusion. If a good RB falls, I can see us drafting one. And nothing would help this o-line more than a true #1 RB.

  8. Aron says:

    The annual game of offensive lineman musical chairs concerns me. Also, we almost exclusively draft collegiate left tackles and play them out of position since TT has taken over. My gut tells me lack of continuity along o line may be a contributing factor to their poor performance. Thoughts?

    • Stroh says:

      College OT usually end up playing OG in the NFL. Thats cuz the vast majority of them don’t have the athletic ability or size (or both) to play OT in the NFL. Would you rather draft college OG that for the most part don’t belong in the NFL at all? EDS has been a valuable backup at OG/C who they deemed ready to take over at Center full time. I don’t see any musical chairs, except for the backups, cuz the backups have to be versatile enough to play multiple positions. Can’t carry 2 OL at every position on the roster and at most 7 will be on the game day roster, so the backups have to be able to play at least 2 positions otherwise you can’t carry them on the gameday roster.

    • Joe in Madison says:

      The whole league drafts College Left Tackes and moves them around, this is not something that is done by Green Bay only. As an example, of the six 2012 Pro Bowl Guards, four of them played Tackle in college (Mankins, Yanda, Smith & Evans). Only Iupati & Snee were Guards in college before turning pro.

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