The Green Bay Packers might have some capable players on their offensive line, but the debacle in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day showed just how thin the ranks on the line actually are. Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen were forced to try a new mix when starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith suffered a knee injury in the second quarter, and it's possible that injury may keep him out for upcoming games.
Because of the results without EDS, it seems entirely possible that he is the most important part of the offensive line.
The starting line, as you know, consists of David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, and Don Barclay from left to right. Bakhtiari is a rookie fourth-round pick who has played very well for a player of his experience level protecting the Packers' quarterbacks' blind side, although his run blocking needs significant improvement. Sitton is having an All Pro-caliber year after a one-game hiccup in his first action at left guard in week one. EDS is solid, if unspectacular on the inside, while Lang has provided a little punch in the run game while still providing decent pass protection. Barclay, the second-year man, has had his struggles, but in all hasn't looked bad for a second-year player.
Think of this as a slate of ingredients for a recipe. All of these five parts work together, and though the ingredient themselves may be of varying quality and taste, they come together to make a palatable dish. In the second half of the Lions game, however, the dish known as the offensive line lost its anchor ingredient, its center. When a crucial ingredient goes bad and you don't have the same thing to replace it (even in a cheaper brand), you have to start shuffling around other tastes to make up for the missing flavor.
In this case, the coaches shifting T.J. Lang over to center and plugging in Marshall Newhouse in at right guard. This of course was a different plan from the last time that EDS was injured, when Barclay moved to guard and Newhouse came in to play tackle. Despite playing at a different position, though, the result was the same: Newhouse struggled mightily to protect the quarterback, and in fact performed so poorly at guard that rookie Lane Taylor was asked to play nine snaps in relief.
In this case, Ted Thompson does the grocery shopping, and apparently he did not judge the need for a veteran backup center as being of enough value to the team to make sure he picked one up before the season. If fourth-round draft pick JC Tretter had been intended to be that backup, then his injury in OTAs probably should have spurred on the signing of a veteran or another option at the position. Greg Van Roten might have filled in, but he was also lost to injury. Finally, when EDS went down, McCarthy and Campen had to make do with ingredients that aren't designed to replace Dietrich-Smith and the whole dish came out tasting like garbage.
That's enough with the cooking metaphor, but the message must be clear: the Packers must figure out a viable backup plan at the center position next year.