The most consistent aspect of the Green Bay Packers this season had to be the play of the offensive line. For the most part, injuries were few and far between and they kept the pressure off Aaron Rodgers so that he could make some dazzling plays to get the Packers out of the 4-6 hole and into the NFC Championship Game. The offensive line comes in at the highest grade among the APC writers, with an A, so let’s take a look at how they stacked up individually.
STARTERS: Left Tackle - David Bakhtiari
Bakhtiari signed a 4-year, $51.67 million at the start of the season and didn’t disappoint. He was the Packers best lineman this season as he rarely gave up any pressures or sacks to Aaron Rodgers. According to Pro Football Focus, he gave up 20 pressures on the season and was the only left tackle in the NFL to give up less pressure than the quarterback he was protecting (Rodgers was credited with 23 of his own pressures). While the pass blocking was solid, he did struggle in the run game from time to time. With the Packers being forced to use Ty Montgomery at running back, running outside was a big part of the Packers run game and Bakhtiari struggled at hooking the edge or washing him down the line of scrimmage to create a cut back hole for the running back. It was still an excellent year for Bakhtiari and was well worth his extension. He will only get better in the coming years and the Packers are fortunate to have the blind side of Rodgers protected.
Left Guard – Lane Taylor
Taylor had one of the hardest jobs this season, replacing a three-time Pro Bowl player in Josh Sitton. From the day the Packers cut Sitton it was proclaimed as Taylor’s job to lose. Taylor stepped in and performed admirably throughout the season. I thought he was very overmatched at times in the run and pass game but was able to hold his own for most of the season. I see the Packers sticking with Taylor for at least another year to see how much he improved from this past season. However, I wouldn’t count out the Packers looking to the draft to find a guard to develop behind Taylor if he regresses in 2017.
Center – Corey Linsley
Linsley tore his hamstring back in April and missed the first seven games of the season. It looked as if he had lost his starting job to JC Tretter to the same circumstances when he took the starting job from Tretter three years ago, injury. Tretter came in and the Packers didn’t miss a beat and it would have been difficult for the Packers to mess with continuity and place Linsley back in the starting lineup. However, the injury bug hit Tretter again and it thrust Linsley back into his starting role. Once again, the Packers didn’t miss a beat and Linsley helped guide the Packers for the rest of the season. His run blocking looked to improve as he became more confident from the torn hamstring and was able to hold off most of the mammoth nose tackles for the passing game. The most underrated part of Linsley, and any center’s game, is the communication. Being back in the starting lineup, the Packers began getting better front, blitz and protection calls from Linsley. This communication is vital to any passing game and led the Packers to the best pass protection in the NFL.
Right Guard – T.J. Lang
By general comparison, offensive linemen are the most over looked and unappreciated players on the field. There is nothing glamorous or sexy about the position. It’s hard-nosed blue-collar type work that only few can accomplish. Over the past several years, T.J. Lang has even been underappreciated by offensive line standards. This year, he finally broke out of the mold and people around the league took notice. Lang had arguably his best season of his career and that led to a Pro Bowl nod in his eighth season. Lang has been a rock at the right guard position all year and was probably the best run blocker the Packers had this season. Lang is a free agent in March and I have to think he will be one of the top priorities for the Packers to resign. His leadership and ability are difficult to find and keeping an offensive line intact and working together year after year will only benefit the future for the Packers.
Right Tackle – Bryan Bulaga
Bulaga may have taken over for T.J. Lang as the most underappreciated player on the line this year. Year after year, Bulaga shows up and does his job, very well I might add, and rarely get any attention for it. Bulaga’s pass protection was extremely good all season. He’s run blocking has slipped from last year but he reminds of the phrase “wily old veteran” that commentators use from time to time. I use that phrase kind of sparingly as Bulaga is only 27 years old but he has been a starter for the Packers since he was drafted in 2010 and knows how to make his opponents play to his strengths. While injuries have slowed his in the past, he is able to use his knowledge of the game and translate what he learns on film to keep him near the top of his game year in and year out.
BACKUPS: JC Tretter
With Corey Linsley sidelined to start the year with a hamstring injury, it was Tretter’s time to shine at the center position. He was able to show why the Packers tabbed him as Jeff Saturday’s replacement three years ago before an injury derailed those plans. Tretter stepped in and the Packers kept rolling along. His pass blocking was good and Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the best-run blocker before the injury bug hit him again in week 8 against the Falcons. Tretter would not play again for the rest of the season and was eventually put on IR. The Packers will have an interesting decision with Tretter. He is a free agent — will the Packers deem him worth another shot as a backup or will someone pony up the cash and give him an opportunity to start right out of the gate?
It’s been no secret that Barclay’s play has slipped considerably since his ACL injury a few years ago. Unfortunately for him, he has not regained his form as a reliable backup. Barclay struggled in every facet this year and lead me and, I’m sure many others, to cringe whenever he would come in a game. The Packers have some young guys on the practice squad that should get a look before they consider bringing Barclay back for another year.
Spriggs came in as one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft. He had very good credentials from Indiana, where he started at left tackle. His first year in the NFL was a struggle though. He was overmatched most of the time in his pass protection and run blocking was next to nothing. Even with a tough first year, Spriggs still has potential for the Packers. Hopefully, he will continue to learn the game and become a reliable backup for the next couple years or until the Packers need him.
The sixth-round rookie from Stanford played little, often being inactive on game day and seeing most of his snaps as a sixth lineman in heavy packages if Spriggs was filling in for someone on the line. Another season will be needed before the Packers know what they have in him.
Overall grade: A
Overall, this season was a success for the offensive line. The pass protection was easily the best in the league and allowed Aaron Rodgers the time to work his magic the last eight games of the season. The run game lacked a legitimate running back for most of the season but the holes that they were opening up still weren’t there. There outside running game also didn’t gain any traction even with the faster guys like Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael running the ball. Here’s to hoping the offensive line stays together and keeps working on their craft to become a more complete line in 2017-18.