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Packers by Position Offseason Preview: Offensive Line

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Packers by Position Offseason Preview: Offensive Line

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..

Overview

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.

Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Photo by Corey Behnke of CheeseheadTV.com.

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 carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (27) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

If they bring back EDS, next year's o-line has the potential to be the best in probably a decade, dating back to the the days of Clifton, Rivera, Flanagan, Wahle and Tauscher.

RC Packer Fan's picture

That 2003 line was awesome. Really was.

I am of the same opinion that if they bring back EDS they could be the best they have had since then.

Bakhtiari/Sherrod, Sitton, EDS, Lang, Bulaga

That sounds pretty good to me.

Evan's picture

Not to mention good depth too.

Sherrod/Bahk: backup T
Barclay: backup G/T
Tretter: backup C/G

I know they pretty much always draft an o-linemen, but since they really only ever keep 8, I wonder if they might forego that this season seeing as they already have 8 "solid" players. Though I guess Barclay could always be improved upon.

RC Packer Fan's picture

That's what I like the most is the depth. When is the last time we have went into an offseason, thinking we have 4 potential starters at T?

cLowNEY42's picture

"...seeing as they already have 8 “solid” players. "

This is comical.

You're counting on a guy who's lower leg was turned into a jigsaw puzzle, a "rookie" who practically broke the foot off his leg, and another guy who's had two leg injuries in 2 years (OK - hip and leg).

Sweet depth.

Evan's picture

I do wonder what would be a better o-line.

Bakhtiari/Sherrod, Sitton, EDS, Lang, Bulaga

vs

Bakhtiari/Sherrod, Sitton, Lang, Barclay/Tretter, Bulaga

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, as I stated below in my comment, If EDS wasn't resigned, that they could potentially move Lang to C and have Barclay play G.

Lang I thought filled in pretty good at C and could be good there with an offseason practicing there. Barclay seems like a natural G to me.

Either way, I think they are set up nicely next year on the OL.

Phatgzus's picture

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say Lang did well (Thanksgiving Day Massacre), but he could very possibly learn the position over the course of the year and perform solidly. That said I would very much enjoy seeing special EDS not go the way of the Stellar's Sea Cow, er Jeff Saturday, and Scott
Wells.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I view the Packers OL in good shape heading into next year.

I expect the Packers to resign EDS. I think he will be one of the top priority's for the FA's this year. I thought he played well...

I like going into next year with 4 potential starting OT's on the roster.

-Bakhtiari will benefit from an offseason in the NFL weight room.
-Bulaga, I think will be moved back to RT. -Sherrod now finally healthy should have a chance to compete for a starting spot. -Barclay did struggle at times. And I think ultimately he will be a better G then T, but I like having him as a backup especially since Bulaga and Sherrod haven't been healthy in their careers.

One thought I had with Tretter is that the Packers were hoping to groom him to replace EDS after this year so they wouldn't have to resign him. Unfortunately he got injured before he could play, and now I believe the Packers have no choice but to resign EDS. Whether there is any truth to that, I have no idea, its just what I have been thinking.

If EDS is not resigned, I could see them possibly trying Lang at C, and having Barclay play RG. But the more likely choice would be to have Tretter be the C.

As far as the draft. Thompson almost always has drafted a player on the OL in the middle rounds. 4-5th round. So I would expect the same thing this year.

A side note. Looking back at it, how good of a move was it switching Lang and Sitton around? In my opinion, both had their best seasons as pros.

L's picture

Yeah I pretty much agree with this; though, I'd say that the Pack won't pay EDS a dime more than an average league starting Center and probably no more than for 2 years (maybe 3 at most). Therefore, he isn't really a top priority; instead, they'll take a wait and see approach similar to what they did with J.Jones the first time he hit Free Agency. Not sure what kind of demand there will be for his services on the open market but I believe the Pack will have the ability to get him back and re-signed for the price they want. As far as the top priorities go, I think those will be to re-sign S.Shields and BJ.Raji to multi-year contracts and then extend R.Cobb and possibly J.Nelson too.

Evan's picture

I don't think there is any way they can sign Raji AND Shields...not to mention also extend Nelson and Cobb. I bet Raji is gone.

Also, I don't think the Jones scenario is totally apt. Without Jones, the Packers still had 4 above average WRs on the roster, which allowed them to be firm and patient.

Without EDS, there isn't a true center on the roster who has ever started an NFL game. I think that makes his re-signing a higher priority.

L's picture

They'll try there damn-est to lock-up at least one of the two players I mentioned and if they fail to find a way to reach a multi-year contract with the other they'll franchise tag that other player. Just my thought on it, but of course I don't have all the financial projections in front of me to base that on any type of sustainable financial logic.

I'd argue that EDS also isn't a true center himself (there really isn't a "true" center on the team but that's okay) and the Pack could probably get by just as well if not better at that position with TJ.Lang manning it to begin and perhaps even finish next year with Barclay manning the RG position and JC.Tretter or some high-ish 2014 drafted choice looked-to to become the heir apparent once he proved he was ready to take over that role which would allow TJ.Lang to slide back over to start at RG.

Evan's picture

"They’ll try there damn-est to lock-up at least one of the two players I mentioned and if they fail to find a way to reach a multi-year contract with the other they’ll franchise tag that other player."

Again, I don't think there is anyway they can afford to retain both Raji and Shields...even if one is franchised.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I don't expect EDS to cost that much. If I were to guess I would say around 3-4 mil a year. Something along those lines. Maybe something similar to TJ Lang.

I don't expect any team to throw more then 15 million total for him.

I agree with you Evan that the Jones deal was a different situation.

In my opinion resigning EDS and Shields should be the top priority's.

jeremy's picture

Yep, my order is EDS, Shields, J Jones. Let the others walk. It would be nice if TT would take the franchise money and spend it on a free agent safety instead. The dollars go a lot further at safety than corner.

Point Packer's picture

Shields is far more important than EDS. Though I'd put EDS as #2. Need consistency on the O-line, especially after last year's success.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I agree the o-line is really good shape. I think EDS is about 40/60 to re-sign. Even if he goes, I still think they'll have good depth. Lots of good comments before mine make the point well, IMO.

As to the draft, you can never have enough o-line for the long haul. I think it is good team management to draft one every year, no exceptions. This year there is a strong temptation to drop the "no exceptions" part, especially if EDS returns. But o-line keeps the franchise QB upright. It's just not worth foregoing an opportunity to grab a guy you might really need in a few years. It's the NFL. Strengths can turn into weaknesses in the space of a year or two.

WKUPackFan's picture

Having Buluga replace Barclay will be huge upgrade, regardless of whether Bakh or Buluga man the RT spot. I'm sure Barclay has worked hard and gives his best, but he just seems to be limited. A more talented RT could make the Oline a real strength.

larry valdes's picture

Bulaga will replece barcly at rt barcly to back up rg sign eds and let jc get some expiriace and sherrod back the tackle position franchise shields and let raji walk.sign a free agent nt or dt.

redlights's picture

How does Tretter get experience but to start?

My take is that TT and EDS have agreed to let the market dictate the contract. If the market is soft, he comes back; if there's interest, Lang and Tretter can duke it out. None of the injuries are of the type to linger.

Phatgzus's picture

He can come in late in the game in a blowout, or he can start...in the preseason.

redlights's picture

Heh, heh. I heard that Indy wants to sign Newhouse for $5-6M/yr.

Phatgzus's picture

"Despite" or because of?

The Packers were among the best running up the middle-according to ProFootballFocus.com they had 83% success rate running up the middle (far and away better than any other team), only a 16% stuff rate (good for 5th), and the 2nd highest ypc up the gut (between center and guard). Now they only ran up the middle 38% of the time, but that's more than off-guard (just-37%), and off-tackle (25%).

EDS was graded as the 8th-best center-given the amount of Pro-Bowl dropouts, that's arguably Pro-Bowl caliber, granted that doesn't mean a hole helluva lot.

The last FA I recall Rodgers vouching for is James Jones, just an (interesting?) observation, take it for what you will.

Mikeh2's picture

Wouldn't be surprised if Tretter was brought back from PUP to give him practice reps to audition for the starter C gig. Always a long shot he would contribute.

How he did in that audition may determine how hard we try and re-sign EDS

If we do get an extra 4th then that's around the spot where TT is likely to go fishing. Lang, Sitton and Bakh suggests that works better than the 1st anyway.

Robert's picture

I remember reading somewhere a comment from McVarren after watching an entire practice that he was impresed with Tretter, dont know how much value can we put into that...

Mrweit27's picture

Any chance they move Barclay to center?

Stroh's picture

Rodgers wouldn't like his butt height?! Lol

I think he could slide to OG but don't know about Center. Seems to me OG would easily be his best position. If they do move him to backup OG, I would imagine they'll give him a look at Center too.

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