The following is the fifth installment in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster position by position. This installment examines the offensive line.
GREEN BAY—The news on the offensive line during OTAs was the flip-flopping of sides for the guards and tackles. The bigger news in training camp could be who will emerge as the starting right tackle.
During the spring, the Packers switched the former right side of their line, tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton, to the left side, while also shifting the former left side, tackle Marshall Newhouse and guard T.J. Lang, to the right.
It wasn’t an experiment or a trial. It’s a done deal, and the decision was made early, giving all parties involved the offseason program to begin the transition. That transition will continue in camp and during the preseason games.
One significant offshoot of the switcheroo was the opening of the right tackle spot to competition, which didn’t earnestly begin in the spring, but will this summer when the pads go on.
Newhouse, who started 28 games (including playoffs) over the past two seasons at left tackle, worked the most with the first unit during OTAs and is the presumptive starter at right tackle, for now. He’ll have to fend off a host of challengers, though.
Second-year pro Don Barclay started the final four regular-season games of last season and both playoff contests at right tackle. Barclay, who has also practiced at guard in the past and took some snaps at center during the spring, could be evolving into a key swing man if he doesn’t crack the starting lineup.
Rookie fourth-round draft pick David Bakhtiari will get a shot, as well. Like most of the Packers linemen, he played primarily left tackle in college, and his athletic ability was evident in the spring. Fellow draftee JC Tretter may not be in the mix as quickly as Bakhtiari, though, due to a leg injury in OTAs that has sidelined him indefinitely.
The great unknown in the right tackle derby could be Derek Sherrod. After missing all of last season to a surgically repaired broken leg, Sherrod did not participate in OTAs for the second straight year and there’s been no timetable given for his return to the field. If and when he does return, the former first-round pick will have been away from full contact for at least 20 months.
If there’s a true darkhorse, it would be Kevin Hughes, who has spent time on the St. Louis and San Diego practice squads the past two years. He came to the Rams as an undrafted rookie from Southeastern Louisiana in 2011 and did play in a few regular-season games that year.
Elsewhere up front, Evan Dietrich-Smith will begin a season as a starter for the first time, at center. He took over for veteran Jeff Saturday with two games left in the regular season last year and has repeatedly received votes of confidence from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Amongst the young prospects are two additional centers, practice-squad holdover Garth Gerhart and undrafted rookie Patrick Lewis from Texas A&M. Another undrafted rookie, guard Lane Taylor from Oklahoma State, has made strong early impression.
Andrew Datko, a seventh-round pick last year who spent his entire rookie season as a tackle on the practice squad, played a fair amount of guard in the spring, continuing Green Bay’s practice of cross-training its linemen.
Another in that mold is Ivy Leaguer Greg Van Roten, who earned a spot on the practice squad last season as an undrafted rookie from Penn and was later signed to the active roster. Van Roten has played both guard spots and center and could be growing into the same type of versatile inside guy that Dietrich-Smith was the past couple of years.
Previously featured in "Countdown to camp":
QBs - Rodgers on pace for greatness
RBs - Lacy, Franklin offer hope
TEs - Well worth watching, storylines abound
WRs - 'Big three' will lead