So far most of the camp battles looked at have tended on the defensive side of the ball, first with the saftey spot and then with the cornerback spot. Let's look at another starting role up for grabs but this time on the offensive side of the ball.
After many years, and many more surgeries, Chad Clifton's time with the Packers has finished. Since he has not signed with any other team right now, the odds are looking good that his career has finished. He's had a good and long career with the Packers and a lock for the Packer Hall of Fame. The problem is that now the Packers have to find the guy who can replace Clifton as the blindside protector of Aaron Rodgers. There is good news though is that the Packers currently have a pretty good supply of young tackles. Hopefully one of them is ready to replace this long time fixture of the offensive line.
As always, let's meet the competitors:
The Unlikely Heir: Marshall Newhouse
Biggest reason he will be the starter: He lives up to expectations. Right now the coaches, front office staff, and starting QB have high hopes for Newhouse. He did reasonably okay for a fifth round pick in his second season and no full offseason. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know, but he did well against some elite pass rushers (Jared Allen and Julius Peppers) and terrible against others (Cameron Wake, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Tamba Hali). If Newhouse can show the world why the Packers have so much faith in him then he'll easily win this competition.
Biggest reason he will not be the starter: Sherrod heals fast and outplays him. The biggest problem with Newhouse is his ceiling, specifically figuring out where it lies. He seems to have the body type of a starting LT with long arms and a powerful frame, but the guys he struggled the most with were the DE's with freakish elite physical tool sets. It's going to take a really high amount of technique to stop a guy like JPP coming off the edge fast and strong. Can he do it? Sherrod seems to have a high ceiling than Newhouse so if he can get healthy and play lights out Newhouse could be back to swing tackle duty.
The Expected Heir: Derek Sherrod
Biggest reason he will be the starter: He heals fast AND outplays Newhouse. You know I feel bad for Sherrod. Typically when a former first round pick is expected to lose the starting job to a guy with only one year more of experience and a much lower draft status people start throwing around the "bust" word. I don't think that fits here. Sherrod is coming off a nasty injury and will only be healthy enough to get reps again at the start of training camp. That means Newhouse got more time on the field last year to build a lead in this competition and more time with the number one offseason in the offseason this year to build on that lead. Anything can happen in camp though and if Sherrod steps up (and the Packers don't waste his time playing him at LG again) then he may turn enough heads to pull this thing out.
Biggest reason he won't be the starter: Newhouse is too far ahead. Sherrod looks like the real deal on paper, but he hasn't shown too much so far to make me think he can make the strides necessary to unseat Newhouse. Next year maybe, but this year is going to be a tall order.
The Longshot: Andrew Datko
Biggest reason he will be the starter: He really surprises people. Packer fans are kinda like housewives at a rummage sale. They are always looking for the great value and a steal. It's why we rave about Vic So'oto and Dezman Moses, it's why we really want Sam Shields to show 2010 wasn't a fluke, and it's why Datko may be the most interesting story on the O-line this year. This a guy who had a second round grade from some scouts, but dropped to the 7th round because of injury concerns. So far he's been healthy and he may have the ability to make this camp battle very interesting.
Biggest reason he won't be the starter: He's not ready. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. There are real questions about Datko physically (the old arm length and frame question) and he may be more of a RT or swing tackle in the NFL. That's not bad and he is still promising, but if Sherrod is miles behind Newhouse then Datko may be light years behind Newhouse in the competition.
The Final Twist: Bryan Bulaga on the move
I'm going to start by saying this will probably not happen. McCarthy has said it wouldn't happen. There is no good reason to think this will happen.....unless all three of the guys mentioned above show they don't have what it takes to be the LT. LT is the most important of the two tackle position, and may be the most physically demanding offensive line position. Bulaga was drafted to be the heir to Clifton to begin with and is without a doubt the most talented the tackle we have. right now. Newhouse may be the default, but if he fails and Sherrod isn't ready look for Bulaga to move to make sure Rodgers has some protection.