When it was made public that the Packers would be making some significant changes to their offensive line earlier this month, much of the attention centered on Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton moving to left tackle and left guard respectively, and understandably so.
Sitton was named to his first Pro Bowl last season and Bulaga is an emerging former first round draft choice. They’ll be teaming up to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side for the 2013 season.
Glossed over amongst this recent news has been the position Bulaga is vacating, however, over at right tackle. So while the focus might be over at the left side of the line, the genius in the move might be the competition created for the one starting position yet to be filled.
In addition to Bulaga and Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith will man the center position and T.J. Lang will hold down the fort at right guard. Right tackle, however, remains tenantless.
Good thing for the Packers, there’s no shortage of candidates who will be vying for a spot in the starting lineup. Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, Don Barclay, David Bakhtiari, J.C. Tretter and Andrew Datko all figure to be in the mix.
This past weekend, head coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t interested in discussing the players who will be fighting for the starting gig, partially because he doesn’t yet know who exactly they’ll be.
“I’m not going to get into the depth chart,” said McCarthy. “Frankly, I’ll be honest, I’d like to get everyone lined up first and then we can talk about that when training camp opens or we’ll see how these OTA reps sort out.”
OTAs, or Organized Team Activities, begin next week in Green Bay, and they’ll be the first of several opportunities for the contenders to separate themselves from the pretenders in a full-team practice setting.
The pads aren’t allowed to come on during OTAs, so the Packers will have to wait until training camp for that. Regardless, it will be a chance to see players in action for the first time since last season ended.
Marshall Newhouse would seem to be one of the more likely candidates to start at right tackle given he was the incumbent starter on the left side for much of the past two seasons.
The argument can be made that Newhouse gave up too many sacks and pressures, but the reality of the situation is that he allowed 41 hurries and nine sacks in 2011 and then improved to 37 hurries and nine sacks in 2012 in 290 more snaps than the previous season (according to ProFootballFocus.com).
Newhouse is the only player on the Packers roster who played every single offensive snap last season, so his durability is a strong selling point.
One player the Packers will be itching to see is 2011 first round draft choice Derek Sherrod, who suffered a broken leg late in his rookie season and split his time last year between the Physically Unable to Perform list and injured reserve.
During the NFL Draft McCarthy acknowledged Sherrod had undergone a second surgery on his leg and was making progress in his recovery. The jury will be out on Sherrod until he’s seen in action during training camp, but from a raw talent standpoint, he might be the best of the bunch.
Barclay will be looking to build on an impressive rookie campaign in which he went from going undrafted to being the starter at right tackle for the last six games of the season, including playoffs, after Bulaga was placed on I.R.
One question with Barclay might be whether he’s a better guard than tackle, but seeing as the guard spots are basically taken in Green Bay, there’s no reason he can’t compete for the one open slot in the trenches.
Recently joining the battle are the two additions to the offensive line in the NFL Draft, fourth rounders David Bakhtiari of Colorado and J.C. Tretter of Cornell.
Continuing a trend under general manager Ted Thompson, both Bakhtiari and Tretter were college left tackles, but their positions in the NFL have yet to be determined. Bakhtiari started out at left tackle and Tretter at right tackle during rookie orientation camp last weekend, but McCarthy said they were likely to swap positions at some point.
Finally, Datko can’t be counted out of the competition either. Last year’s seventh round draft choice spent all of last season on the practice squad trying to get over shoulder injuries sustained in high school and college.
After a year spent in an NFL weight room, Datko might finally be ready to make a serious run at the job, even though he’s probably further down the depth chart than some of the other players named above.
Among the six players profiled here or any others that make themselves heard, all the Packers have to do is find the best player out of a half dozen or so options. The competition is wide open.
And yes, may the best man win.