Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
In oversimplified terms, the Green Bay Packers got solid play from the interior of their offensive line and shaky play from their tackles in 2013.
But to say the tackles were shaky doesn't tell the whole story. In reality, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari was a steadying force for the Packers after veteran Bryan Bulaga went down in training camp with a torn ACL.
Bakhtiari wasn't perfect, and he's in major need of an offseason spent in an NFL weight room, but the job he did in protecting the quarterback's blind side was very encouraging to say the least.
The right tackle position is another matter. Don Barclay too frequently got beat by pass rushers off the edge this past season, making it clear that he's not the future of the position in Green Bay, although he's still a capable backup. And Marshall Newhouse looked like a fish out of water.
Bakhtiari, Bulaga and Derek Sherrod are still waiting to hear from the coaching staff how they'll be used in 2014, whether it's on the left or right side.
On the interior, the Packers are in good hands. Despite Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang flip-flopping sides in the offseason, both seemed to elevate their level of play this past season with Sitton in particular establishing himself as one of the NFL's best guards.
Both Sitton and Lang are also under contract for the foreseeable future in Green Bay, helping to bring stability along the offensive line.
The biggest question mark is at center, where Evan Dietrich-Smith is set to become a free agent in March.
Dietrich-Smith provided mostly solid play in 2013, allowing the Packers to operate their offense without a hitch, but he also didn't provide Pro Bowl caliber play, and Green Bay isn't likely to pay him at such a level.
Should Dietrich-Smith move on, rookie J.C. Tretter might get first crack at winning the job, but he's hardly a sure thing after missing the majority of the 2013 season with a broken ankle. Greg Van Roten provides depth, but he too was injured this past season.
Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook
Evan Dietrich Smith––Perhaps surprisingly, there's been no indication that Dietrich-Smith and his representatives been in discussion with the Packers on a contract extension, either during the season or now, just weeks before the start of free agency in March.
Should Dietrich-Smith leave, Green Bay would be breaking in their fourth starter at center in four seasons, presenting the organization with an undesirable amount of turnover at the position.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been vocal in his support of Dietrich-Smith, but general manager Ted Thompson is not necessarily one to be swayed by the wishes and whims of his players.
As calculated by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dietrich-Smith led the team in the subjective negative statistic of "bad runs" with 22 and also gave up 11 1/2 quarterback pressures.
Perhaps the Packers feel they can do better than Dietrich-Smith and perhaps Dietrich-Smith is dead set on testing the open waters of free agency and seeing how much money he can get.
It seems unlikely that the Packers would simply let Dietrich-Smith walk away without making a competitive offer, but it's clear that the organization wants to dictate the price and not the center's camp.
With money needed to potentially extend the contracts of players like Sam Shields, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and maybe even be active in free agency, the Packers could use every penny possible.
Marshall Newhouse––Newhouse did surprisingly well in opening up holes for running back Eddie Lacy, but that doesn't overcome an absolutely putrid season in pass protection, seemingly taking a step backwards in his fourth season in the NFL.
It's highly unlikely the Packers offer Newhouse a contract, even at the NFL minimum, knowing they already have a group of tackles with a ton of potential and the likelihood they add some rookies to the mix in 2014.
If there's some NFL team that happens to shows interest in Newhouse, the Packers would be more than happy at the potential of receiving some sort of compensatory draft pick for his loss.
Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook
With the Packers likely to have nine draft choices by the time compensatory picks are announced, it's inevitable they'll draft an offensive lineman at some point over the course of seven rounds, but it doesn't stick out as a major need.
By virtue of the Packers spending recent first round draft choices on Bulaga and Sherrod, the emergence of Bakhtiari and the continued solid play from Sitton and Lang, there's just not much room for a high-round rookie on the offensive line.
It's possible that could change if Evan Dietrich-Smith departs in free agency and there's a prospect the Packers really like. But this wouldn't be the first year center appeared to be a need for Green Bay. Typically they bypass the top center prospects, instead choosing to develop one.
At some point in the draft, expect the Packers to continue their modus operandi of selecting an athletic college tackle and seeing where he fits into their plans once he arrives in Green Bay. Every starter on the Packers offensive line was a tackle at some point in their college career, most of them on the left side.
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].
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