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Packers 90-Man roster preview: Experienced offensive line to pave the way in 2016

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Green Bay's offensive front will look to stay healthy and live up to its potential this season.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Acme Packing Company continues our breakdown of the Packers offseason roster. Today we take a look at the returning offensive linemen. The Packers have eleven players returning that were on the roster or practice squad from 2015. Of these eleven, eight are heading into their contract year. This could be the last ride for a few on the roster as we have two new draft picks coming in and three undrafted rookies in camp (whom we’ll take a look at in a later article).

At he end of the day, this is still a very experienced group with the starters being together for the past three seasons and having several veterans in primary backup positions. There will be a lot of hype around the offensive linemen this season and it begs the question, can these eleven solidify the line and provide good depth or will they remain to struggle if someone goes down with an injury? Let’s take a look at who is coming back for 2016.

THE STARTERS

#69 DAVID BAHKTIARI

Left Tackle, 6’4", 310 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

David Bahktiari will be back manning Aaron Rodgers blind side for the 2016 season. The 2015 season started out good for him as he started the first 14 games of the season. Then the injury bug bit in a big way. He tore several ligaments in his ankle and missed the final two regular season games and the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. His absence made everyone in Packer Nation cringe as those who filled in for Bahktiari gave up seven sacks in three games. With his contract expiring after this season, he needs to stay healthy and perform at the level he has for the past three seasons for the Packers to feel comfortable in giving him a long-term extension. With having a solid left tackle being such a luxury in the NFL, my guess is that he’ll get a deal done with the Packers and be protecting Rodgers for years to come.

#71 JOSH SITTON

Left Guard, 6’3", 318 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

Josh Sitton enters the season as the elder statesman of the Green Bay offensive line. The 29-year old has been a rock at the guard position by not missing a game since the 2011 season and earning two Pro Bowl selections over his career. Sitton has shown his versatility over the years by being able to play at a high level at both guard positions and even filling in at left tackle for a game in 2015. Sitton is another starter who will be in need of a new contract after this season and it’s going to be a tough choice for the Packers if they need to choose between keeping Sitton and another free agent lineman. While his age might be a factor, as most lineman start to see a decline once they are in their 30s, the main determinant will probably come down to dollars and cents. Hopefully, the Packers and Sitton can come to an agreement and he will be able to finish his career in green and gold.

#63 COREY LINSLEY

Center, 6’3", 301 pounds
Contract expires: 2018

Corey Linsley will be back for his third season at center for the Packers. Linsley was one of those rare finds as he was a 5th round pick who came in and started right away as a rookie. He has proven that he is more than capable of identifying defenses, blitzes and leading the communication in the trenches. In doing so, he has developed into one of the more reliable centers in the game and has a bright future ahead of him. Let’s hope he continues to improve and starts getting some more looks as a Pro Bowl candidate. Linsley’s rookie contract runs out after the 2018 season and Aaron Rodgers has nothing but praise for him. When a QB finds a center that he likes as in this case, that usually means Linsley will be around for as long as Rodgers is at the helm.

#70 T.J. LANG

Right Guard, 6’4" 318 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

T.J. Lang enters the season as another durable member of the Packers offensive line, as he has only missed two games since the 2011 season. Lang was another mid-round pick that has turned out well for the Packers. The one difference between his other line mates is that Lang was pretty raw out of college and took his time developing his craft. He didn’t have any more than a spot start here and there until his third season where he started all 16 games. Once he got his chance, he hasn’t let go of his spot and has excelled at improving every year since. Lang is another starter in his contract year. While his age (28) could come into play, the most likely scenario is that the Packers and Lang have to agree on the financial side. Lang could be looking to cash in after the year and, while I’d hate to see him leave, it’s something that the Packers have started preparing for just in case.

#75 BRYAN BULAGA

Right Tackle, 6’5", 314 pounds
Contract expires: 2020

For some reason, when I think of Bryan Bulaga, I think of someone who has been playing for the Packers for more than a decade. However, he’s only entering his seventh year in the league. The former first round pick out of Iowa was plugged into the right tackle spot four games into his rookie year and has done a nice job holding down the position since 2010. So much so that he signed a five-year contract extension in March of 2015. His biggest knock is his injury history. His knees have taken a beating, which isn’t unusual for lineman, but they have been so bad that he hasn’t been able to play a full 16 game season yet. Hopefully, this will be the year he can make the full schedule and pave the way for a great season by the Packers running backs.

DEPTH

#65 LANE TAYLOR

6’3", 324 pounds
Contract expires: 2018

If you’re looking for a great example of the attitude needed from an offensive lineman standpoint, look no further than Lane Taylor. Taylor is a true blue collar type of a player who checks in and works hard every day, a true grinder. Taylor was a part of the 2013 undrafted free agent crop and made the team that year by playing mostly on special teams. Over the next couple years, his hard work has paid off as he was able to start at guard when injuries forced Sitton to replace Bahktiari at tackle and when Lang was out with an injury. The Packers saw enough promise in Taylor to extend him on a two-year contract this past year, when he was a restricted free agent. Hopefully, we’ll see him continue to grow and become an important cog in the depth up front.

#67 DON BARCLAY

6’4", 305 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

Don Barclay enters his fifth year playing for the Packers. To say 2015 was a tough year for him would be and understatement. He had a brutal game week 16, filling in for David Bahktiari, against the Cardinals where he gave up four sacks, four QB hurries and three penalties in the blowout loss. Usually, Barclay is a dependable and versatile backup but he just seemed to be off last season. Maybe it was from him still recovering from an ACL tear in 2014. Barclay is the definition of Ted Thompson being loyal to his guys by getting a one-year deal in the offseason. With the addition of a couple new linemen in the draft, he needs to regain his pre-ACL tear form to show he still has what it takes to make the team - he has no guaranteed money in his contract and would be an easy cut if he does not return to form.

#73 JC TRETTER

6’4", 307 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

JC Tretter has been one of the most versatile lineman that the Packers have had in recent memory. His primary position is center, as he was tabbed to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith back in 2014. However, a knee injury forced him out of the first half of that season and Corey Linsley claimed the center position for the foreseeable future. Since then, Tretter has improved his game and become a reliable backup for any of the interior line positions.

Tretter’s most impressive game came last year when he filled in at left tackle for David Bahktiari in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Packers had a mess on their hands for the first two games Bahktiari was out, but after a few opening game jitters, he calmed down and played very well against the Cardinals. With his contract expiring at the end of the year, it might be difficult to keep him in Green Bay without a guaranteed starting position but if both sides keep their options open it’s a possibility to see him in Green Bay after this season.

#79 JOSH WALKER

6’5", 328 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

Josh Walker’s first full season is Green Bay showed promise for the future. I would say no one was expecting for him come in and compete for a spot but he played well enough to be trusted when Josh Sitton and TJ Lang needed to come out for injuries. Walker showed he has the strength and the speed to play at the NFL level and, with another year of coaching from James Campen, his skills will continue to improve. The undrafted free agent came to Green Bay in 2014 when he was signed to the practice squad from the Indianapolis Colts. His current contract is up after the year and will be a good candidate to be resigned to provide depth for the future.

PRACTICE SQUAD

#50 VINCE KOWALSKI

6’4", 305 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

#74 MATT ROTHERAM

6’5", 325 pounds
Contract expires: 2017

Both Vince Kowalski and Matt Rotheram spent last season on the practice squad. Kowalski is listed as a guard/tackle who played at Villanova while Rotheram is a guard out of Pittsburgh. They are a long shot to crack the 53-man roster this year but the success of past practice squad players like Josh Walker leaves them some hope. Both will still be eligible to be on the practice squad this season.