It probably shouldn't come as a surprise Don Barclay was getting reps with the first-team offense this past week during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in Green Bay.
Barclay was working with the first-string offensive line at left guard, filling in for Josh Sitton, a situation that's not worth reading into during the month of June.
As a seventh-year pro and a second-team All-Pro last season, Sitton's job is safe. The Packers likely took advantage of the opportunity to give Sitton some rest and Barclay some experience at a different position.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had nothing but high praise for Barclay following last week's OTA session open to the public.
"Don Barclay to me is a starting football player," said McCarthy. "He's earned the opportunity to compete for a starting position. Him and Bryan (Bulaga) will compete on the right side. We've got to make sure we have as much competition as we possibly can.
"The more you can do. Don has the ability to play potentially five positions along the offensive line. I don't know how many guys you can say that about."
After starting the final six games of his rookie season in 2012 (including playoffs) when Bulaga went down with a fractured hip, Barclay essentially became a full-time starter last year following Bulaga's season-ending torn ACL suffered during training camp.
Barclay started all 15 games he played last season, missing Weeks 11 and 12 due to a knee injury.
For the time being, it appears the Packers are using the offseason program to get Bulaga comfortable at right tackle for dual reasons.
For one, Bulaga missed much of the past season and half due to injury. And for another, Bulaga was expected to be the starting left tackle last season before the injury bug struck. After David Bakhtiari performed so well in his stead, it's back to the right side for Bulaga.
Meanwhile, Barclay—as McCarthy mentioned—has the ability to play any position on the offensive line. Sitton and T.J. Lang might be the unquestioned starters at guard, but should either of them suffer an injury, Barclay looks to be the top backup.
Barclay can even play center in a pinch. And considering the starting center job is up for grabs in Green Bay, no one could be blamed if they thought Barclay should get a chance to replace the departed Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.
Since OTAs began, however, the third-year pro from West Virginia hasn't taken any snaps at the pivot position.
McCarthy left the door open a crack to Barclay playing center, saying, "Possibly," but the Packers coach has good reason for keeping center a three-man race between J.C. Tretter, Corey Linsley and Garth Gerhart.
"Right now at the center position, I think it's important that we got three centers that have actually played center before, or two that have played center before," said McCarthy. "That's a good thing for us, just to get those guys competing and get comfortable. Obviously the relationship with the guards and the quarterback, the core there, you can't get enough reps."
It all goes back to the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the Players Association, insituted in 2011.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past that teams could hold two-a-day practices duriing training camp, but those days are over.
The timeframe for getting a player ready and prepared for the season is condensed. This is a challenge for the coaching staff, happening all over the roster.
"I think you'll notice the reps this time of year are down than prior years, just in the way you practice in team drills," said McCarthy. "You get to training camp, I think we're 21, 22 practices down from 35, 36 three years ago. The team reps, how you utilize them, you look into that a lot more."
The Packers experimented with Barclay at center last season during training camp and the prevailing sentiment is that he handled the blocking portion of the job well. But he had issues with the quarterback exchange, whether it was under center or the shotgun snap.
More than likely, Barclay will remain an emergency center, only playing the position if injury necessitates.
But there's a job for Barclay in Titletown. His focus will be at tackle and guard, perhaps even in the starting lineup if he can earn it.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
Photo: Packers offensive lineman Don Barclay by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports.
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