EDITOR'S NOTE: I gave my take on the right tackle situation over the weekend; Jason looks at some of the same players with a slightly different take on the situation.
After giving up 92 sacks the past two seasons, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made the unprecedented decision to invert his offensive line. The move is largely predicated on the team's preference for having Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton, the team's best tackle and guard respectively, protecting Aaron Rodgers' blindside.
By all accounts, Bulaga has recovered from the hip injury that ended his 2012 season. Sitton, a former college tackle, is athletic and talented enough to handle any position the team places him. Accordingly, the left side of the line shouldn't have many issues going forward. However, the transition doesn't come without glaring concerns. Namely, who will start at right tackle?
At the time of the decision, the Packers' list of options included two tackles with starting experience, a former first round pick, and a slew of late round and UDFAs from previous offseasons. The 2013 NFL Draft brought in two more suitors, further clouding the picture.
If there is a frontrunner for the job, it's likely Marshall Newhouse. Since Chad Clifton went down with a partially torn hamstring in October 2011, Newhouse has been Green Bay's starting left tackle. While he's compiled 29 starts in that time, it's also been an up and down experience. Newhouse largely struggled his first year of starting, yielding 9 sacks and 7 penalties. He improved significantly in 2012 as a pass blocker, going from a -16.5 pass block rating to 5.3 according to Pro Football Focus. However, his run blocking woes continued as did his penchant for giving up untimely sacks. The good news is Newhouse may be better suited for the right side where he's less likely to face elite pass rushers. With Bulaga back in the fold, the Packers can more frequently help Newhouse on the right side. If Newhouse can make another big stride this offseason, he should be able to nail down the right tackle spot.
Don Barclay will be Newhouse's chief competitor. Bulaga's injury last year began a chain reaction that caused instability and poor performance across the offensive line. It wasn't until Don Barclay was inserted into the lineup that line's performance finally steadied. Barclay wasn't great in 2012, as his -7.5 accumulative 7 game rating from PFF indicates. But like Newhouse, Barclay could take a significant step this offseason. Barclay has the size and tenacity the team favors at right tackle. If Barclay can reduce mistakes and improve in pass protection, he could be McCarthy's choice come August.
Lost in the shuffle is Derek Sherrod. The Packers made Sherrod their first round selection in 2011 only to lose him to a gruesome leg break week 14 in Kansas City. The injury, and the multitude of setbacks during his recovery, has made Sherrod a ghost on the Packers' roster. Last week, McCarthy said Sherrod was "the farthest away" from playing of the Packers returning from IR. While that doesn't necessarily mean Sherrod won't be ready to compete come training camp, there may be too many hurdles to clear in time for this season.
The dark horse in this competition is rookie David Bakhtiari. Evaluated by many as a second day prospect, Bakhtiari fell into the Packers' hands in round four. The former Second Team All Pac-12 tackle has ideal height and athleticism for either tackle spot. However, Bakhtiari will have to overcome a bit of a weight deficiency. While the Packers list him at 300 pounds, Bakhtiari probably weighs closer to 290-295. It's rare in the modern NFL for a tackle to play consistently that much below 310. Thus, Bakhtiari may "redshirt" his rookie season.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn
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