Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2015 season. Today, we examine the offensive linemen. Follow along with all of our positional breakdowns here.
No area of the Green Bay Packers' roster endured more hits than the offensive line. Unlike a year earlier where only right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed a start, every member of the starting five besides left guard Josh Sitton found himself on the inactive list. The situation grew so dire by season's end that Sitton shifted out to left tackle, a position he had not played since high school.
Below, we grade the offensive linemen based on their performance during the 2015 season.
Left tackle: David Bakhtiari
David Bakhtiari did not miss a single start during his first two seasons in the NFL. That streak ended in 2015, with the left tackle missing the Packers' final two regular season tilts as well as their Wild-Card Round trip to Washington.
Still, Bakhtiari deserves plenty of credit for playing through significant injuries the entire season. A knee sprain limited him to just one game during the preseason, an issue that remained problematic well into the year. Bakhtiari picked up other knee issues as well as a badly damaged ankle later on, yet he played through it for the team's near upset of the Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional Round.
In addition to playing through pain, Bakhtiari's pass blocking improved for the third straight season. He remains inconsistent in the run game, but at only 24 he can work on that aspect of his game as well. However, he gets dinged for all the penalties he committed.
Left guard: Josh Sitton
For a variety of reasons, Sitton didn't match his performance from 2014, the best season of his career. He committed more penalties and allowed more pressure and sacks.
And yet, the Packers have no reasonable complaints with Sitton. He did not miss a game for the fourth straight year despite chronic back issues and remained the team's most consistent overall lineman. Without their Pro Bowl left guard, the Packers' offensive issues down the stretch could have grown even worse.
Center: Corey Linsley
As a rookie, Corey Linsley surprised nearly everyone by performing at a near Pro Bowl level and the offensive line's most mentally demanding position. He held up well in the run and developed into an above-average pass blocker by the time the playoffs arrived.
2015 represented a bit of a step back. He missed three games with ankle trouble and seemed to struggle more with power rushers than previously. It seems likely that the second-year lineman also battled other injuries that did not make the official report.
The Packers have every reason to expect Linsley to return to form when healthy, but he has room to improve.
Right guard: T.J. Lang
After Sitton, Lang proved to be Green Bay's most reliable linemen. Healthy or otherwise, Lang could often be found mauling defenders well past the line of scrimmage on run plays. When he sat during the team's Week 13 matchup with the Detroit Lions, his absence was evident in every aspect of the line play.
At the same time, Lang had some off moments in pass protection, particularly late in the year when a shoulder injury weakened his ability overpower bigger interior rushers.
Right tackle: Bryan Bulaga
Much to the Packers' dismay, Bulaga's 2015 saw the veteran lineman regress in both pass protection and run blocking. Like his line-mates, injures made life difficult for the right tackle, forcing him to play hobbled for much of the year.
That said, the drop-off from Bulaga to Don Barclay or Josh Walker -- the two primary backups at his position -- makes it difficult for Green Bay to complain. As poor as Bulaga performed at times, he at least provided competent blocking more often than not, something his replacements cannot boast.
Backup: Don Barclay
In his first year back from an ACL tear, Barclay rarely looked like the player Packers head coach Mike McCarthy once referred to as the "sixth starter." At either tackle spot, the fourth-year lineman looked lost in pass protection and delivered little in the ground game. The team could re-sign him this offseason, but that seems a dicey proposition after his 2015 season.
Backup: JC Tretter
Little used until late in the year, Tretter showcased his skill and versatility in multiple starts at center and a postseason nod at left tackle. Clearly the Packers' top backup moving forward, Tretter has the opportunity to work at potentially all five spots along the line and earn a big raise next offseason.
Backup: Lane Taylor
Alternative between the inactive list and the 46 most of the year, Lane Taylor showed he could battle with the big boys when called upon. He started two games at guard, one in place of Lang and another when Sitton vacated his normal post for the blindside. Neither a strength nor a liability, Taylor built a little momentum as he hits restricted free agency this offseason.
Backup: Josh Walker
Walker didn't receive much playing time in 2015. When he did, the coaching staff had him lining up out of position to cover for an injured starter. Though Walker looked downright dreadful in spot duty at tackle, he may have a future along the interior.
When the five starters played together, the line functioned effectively most of the time and gave the offense a change to put points on the board. However, when the unit missed a starter or two, Aaron Rodgers looked like a man running for his life. Part of that falls on the coaching staff, which failed to identify Tretter as the team's top backup tackle until after the regular season had concluded. Still, the line has to perform better next season for the offense to approach its 2014 form.