The Packers' biggest offseason move a year ago was the flipping of the offensive line to allow Bryan Bulaga to line up at left tackle. Unfortunately for Green Bay, that plan had to be altered once Bulaga suffered a torn ACL early in training camp. His injury ushered in the David Bakhtiari era, and with it some up and down results.
For a fourth-round draft pick, Bakhtiari performed well above expectation. Even during his lowest points, the Packers never considered benching their blindside protector. Head coach Mike McCarthy was forced to make few adjustments to the offense, but by midseason the Packers were more inclined to leave Bakhtiari on an island due to his success in pass protection. Perhaps just as importantly, franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers expressed supreme confidence in the young tackle.
What limits Bakhtiari is his size. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, Bakhtiari stands out as one of the lightest left tackles in the division. It's not surprising that he graded out as the team's worst run blocker for the season. Bakhtiari can add weight, but the team appears to question whether they might prefer him on the right side. It's possible that Bakhtiari might shift over to right tackle or inside to guard next year.
Perhaps part of the case for shifting Bakhtiari is the poor performance of current right tackle Don Barclay. After a strong start to the 2013 season, Barclay became a liability in both pass protection and run blocking, the latter which was his supposed strength. By the end of the season, Barclay was victimized so regularly that the Packers ran the vast majority of their run plays away from him. While he offers positional versatility and plenty of attitude, Barclay is probably best suited in a reserve role or on the interior of the line.
After an over two year hiatus, former first-round pick Derek Sherrod finally re-emerged on the 53. Sherrod played few snaps this season, but he appears to have at least passed the injury hurdles that cost him most of his professional career to date. The question for Sherrod is whether he can regain what he lost and whether that's enough to contribute next season. His grade remains incomplete.
The elephant in the room is the status of Bulaga. Following the 2011 season, Bulaga had the look of a potential All-Pro blocker with the potential to move over to the left side a la Jordan Gross. A hip injury cost him a chunk of 2012 and the aforementioned torn ACL knocked him out of this past season. There are now legitimate questions surrounding Bulaga's long-term future with the team. It's worth noting that the Packers have carefully not ruled out a return to left tackle. It's entirely possible that McCarthy still views Bulaga as the answer to protect Aaron Rodgers' blindside. If that does indeed come to pass, the former Hawkeye will have a hefty pay raise waiting for him, as Bulaga's contract expires following 2014.
Marshall Newhouse, finally limited to a reserve role, started two games and played a handful of snaps in a few others when Barclay or center Evan Dietrich-Smith missed some time. In what comes as no surprise to many Packers fans, he was a liability in pass protection and provided little to no help in the run game.
Final Grade: C-
While Bakhtiari performed well above expectation for a rookie fourth-round pick, it doesn't alter the fact that the Packers had the weakest set of tackles in the NFC North last year. If Bulaga returns to form and Bakhtiari improves his technique and size, this could be a position of strength in 2014.
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