Over the past few weeks, the Green Bay Packers have been searching for a backup plan at the left tackle position, and have had no success.
With David Bakhtiari out due to an ankle injury, Don Barclay suited up in week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals and was repeatedly beaten by Dwight Freeney. Last Sunday, in an effort to put a more steady veteran presence at the position, Josh Sitton moved out to tackle from his normal left guard spot and drew a matchup with the Minnesota Vikings' Everson Griffen. Pro Football Focus credited Griffen with nine quarterback pressures in the game, which included two sacks and a forced fumble on the official stat sheet.
On Thursday morning, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made it clear that Sitton would be back in his normal left guard spot for Sunday's Wild Card matchup in Washington. However, that gives no more certainty to the tackle spot, as Bakhtiari did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and McCarthy further said that his healing is "going to take the week."
The question of course, is who will actually play left tackle if Bakhtiari cannot play on Sunday? With Sitton removed from the discussion, there are three possibilities: Don Barclay (again), JC Tretter, and Bryan Bulaga. We've seen what Barclay did two weeks ago, and it wasn't pretty. Both Bulaga and Tretter were left tackles in college, and Bulaga was going to be moved to the left side in 2013 before his ACL tear, suggesting that the Packers think he could still be effective on that side. But moving him over during the week before the playoffs is a much different animal than making that chance in spring camp. Barclay should then be able to fill in more effectively at right tackle, where he has been at least passable in the past.
There is one clear argument against moving Bulaga this week. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has been a star in Washington since his arrival from Purdue five years ago, as he has averaged 9.5 sacks and more than three forced fumbles per year. Kerrigan is on a roll, with six sacks in his last seven games. Kerrigan lines up almost exclusively on the left side of the defense, opposite the right tackle, which suggests that the Packers might be best served by keeping Bulaga in his normal position.
On the flip side, the Packers will still have their hands full on the left side, despite lesser-known personnel rushing the passer off that edge. Opposite Kerrigan is a tandem of second-round picks: 2014 draftee Trent Murphy and rookie Preston Smith. Combined, the two players have 11.5 sacks, two more than Kerrigan, with Smith racking up eight alone. According to our colleagues at Hogs Haven, Smith has been earning more playing time, despite Murphy being designated the starter. Furthermore, Smith has been hot lately like Kerrigan, with five sacks in the past three weeks.
If Bulaga stays on the right side, Tretter could be the next choice. As a center, he has been effective filling in for Corey Linsley, and he has played a bit of right tackle in relief of an injured Bulaga in the past. However, to our knowledge he has no experience playing left tackle at the NFL level, and it is probably less likely that he would play well there than it was for Sitton, an All-Pro caliber lineman.
The best hope for the position is that Bakhtiari's ankle heals up quickly this week, allowing him to practice on Saturday and play on Sunday. If he cannot, the Packers will probably end up using a third different option to replace him, which should offer fans little confidence that Aaron Rodgers will be able to stay upright throughout Sunday's game.
Leading up to Super Bowl 50, Gillette Fusion ProShield - which features lubrication strips before and after the blades to shield from irritation while you shave - is partnering with select NFL offensive linemen to celebrate the importance of protection. They're calling all current, former and future offensive linemen and coaches - whether you play for fun, as part of an official team, or during your glory days - to submit a dance move that celebrates protection. To see the latest and share your signature dance move for fun perks in the lead-up to Super Bowl 50, check out and use the hashtag #ShieldMove on Twitter.