Stability along the offensive line has been an omnipresent issue for the Packers during the Thompson/McCarthy era. From 2005-2007, Green Bay struggled to find a tandem of starting guards, cycling through the likes of Jason Spitz, Will Whitticker, Junius Coston, Adrian Klemm, and Tony Moll before settling on starters. Problems arose once again when veteran-starting tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher broke down between 2009 and 2011.
As of yet, the Packers have failed to identify clear replacements for Clifton and Tauscher. That's not for a lack of trying, however. Ted Thompson has devoted considerable resources over the past four seasons at offensive tackle, drafting Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod with consecutive first round picks. While Bulaga performed well when healthy, both players have missed multiple seasons to injury. As a result, the Packers have resorted to playing inexperienced youngsters David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay for long stretches the past two years.
Though inconsistent as a rookie, Bakhtiari appears to be a long-term solution somewhere on the line. His size (6-4, 300) suggests that a move to the interior may better suit him, but with long arms and good athleticism for a lineman, Bakhtiari may stick at tackle. In Either case, Ted Thompson once again uncovered a valuable piece on the third day of the draft.
The outlook isn't so sunny for Barclay. In his year and a half as a starter, Barclay has played inconsistently against the run and often times horrendously in pass protection. Despite his tenacious disposition on the field, opposing pass rushers regularly slip by with minimal difficulty. Barclay's versatility (he's lined up at both tackle and guard) should keep him in Green Bay for at least another season, but the Packers require better performance if they wish to return to the Super Bowl.
And this is where things get interesting.
With Bulaga set to return early in training camp from a torn ACL and Sherrod finally recovered from his gruesome leg injury, each will have a chance to start next year. With Bakhtiari better equipped to handle left tackle than right, Bulaga could slip back in at right tackle. This would allow Sherrod to compete for the starting blindside job and become the swing tackle should Bakhtiari win.
Another possibility if the coaching staff prefers Bakhtiari slide into the interior is to keep Bulaga at left tackle and allow Sherrod and Barclay to battle it out on the right side. This would essentially replicate Mike McCarthy's approach to the 2013 offseason only with Sherrod replacing Marshall Newhouse. If the coaches elect to go this direction and Sherrod wins the job, the Packers would feature their biggest set of tackles since the 1990s.
However, all of this assumes that center Evan Dietrich-Smith returns to Green Bay in 2014. If he doesn't, even more shakeups are likely.
One possibility is Bakhtiari moving to guard or center. When he declared early for the draft, Bakhtiari was viewed primarily as an interior lineman. His second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board was predicated on him shifting inside. The Packers could undo their offensive line shuffling from last offseason by moving Josh Sitton back to right guard, moving T.J. Lang to center (where he played at times in 2013), and start Bakhtiari at left guard.
Alternatively, the Packers could leave the guards where they are and simply move Bakhtiari to center, a position he has yet to practice in Green Bay. If the latter, Bakhtiari would compete with fellow second-year lineman J.C. Tretter for the starting center job. None of these are ideal configurations.
As we discussed Monday, the Packers appear likely to re-sign Dietrich-Smith. As such, the Packers won't have to waste time figuring out which the new interior offensive line permutations best suits the offense. That leaves only the bookends to ponder.
Like most teams, the Packers favor continuity along the offensive line above all else. If McCarthy can leave 80% of his linemen unchanged, he's inclined to do so. That means Bakhtiari stays put while Bulaga and Sherrod duke it out over at right tackle. That's not a competition that Sherrod, who has played only a handful of live snaps over the past two years, should expect to win.
Following that reasoning, the Packers will enter the 2014 with a starting line that features (left to right) Bakhtiari, Sitton, Dietrich-Smith, Lang, and Bulaga.
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