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Datko getting long look at left tackle

Posted Aug 12, 2012

The first two practices following the preseason opener have set the stage for a wide-open competition for the backup left tackle spot.

On Saturday night, third-year veteran Herb Taylor and rookie seventh-round draft pick Andrew Datko (pictured) were rotating at left tackle with the No. 1 offensive line in starter Marshall Newhouse’s absence.

Then on Sunday, newly signed 10-year veteran Reggie Wells was thrown into the mix as well, taking his share of snaps with the first unit.

“I wouldn’t get real caught up in who’s playing what, particularly these last couple of days,” McCarthy said, referring to the fact that Newhouse should be back soon, but also to the fact that the depth chart at that position is anything but settled.

Before the weekend, the backup job was Taylor’s, but he had his struggles in San Diego, particularly on one sequence of three plays late in the first quarter. First, Taylor whiffed on a run block as running back James Starks was stuffed for just a 1-yard gain. Then, he was called for holding (which was declined), and finally he was beaten quickly around the edge by first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram, who drilled quarterback Aaron Rodgers as he threw, resulting in an interception.

That has led to Datko getting a longer look at left tackle despite an uneven performance at right tackle against the Chargers. Datko had his hands full early trying to contain second-round draft pick Kendall Reyes, but got more comfortable later on. It’s been the same story of progression for him since the early days of training camp, when he was putting pads on for the first time in 10 months following shoulder surgery as a senior at Florida State.

“I had bad habits with it,” Datko said of his injured shoulder, which is in a harness and has been an issue for him dating back to his high school days. “It was hurt, so my brain said don’t use it. Now, it’s healthy, I can use it, but my brain still hasn’t told myself I can use it.

“So every time I’m in individuals or doing a drill, I’m telling myself, ‘Look, I’m healthy. I can use both my hands, and I can punch.’ I have to keep reminding myself.”

To his credit, he didn’t get down when he got off to a slow start in camp, and he hung in there after some rough early snaps against Reyes.

He also has handled the constant flip-flopping between the left and right sides admirably, particularly for a rookie who got all of his collegiate starts at left tackle. On Sunday, he took all the snaps at left tackle with the first unit during a competitive no-huddle period, then immediately after was back at right tackle in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill.

“Practices are for getting better, and that’s why they have six weeks of it,” Datko said. “When you come up to this league, you can’t just know one position. You have to know two or four. That’s what I’m preparing myself for, to learn both tackles or even both guards.”

That kind of versatility is why Wells is still in the league and has now latched on in Green Bay. He came into the NFL in 2003 as a left tackle, has played most of his 91 career starts at guard and has dabbled in the past at center.

Now on his fourth team in the last four years, Wells has an opportunity to become the offensive line’s veteran insurance as a blind-side pass protector should he outperform Taylor and Datko.

“Whatever they need me to do,” Wells said. “Obviously I’ve spent some time at different positions, and if that’s somewhere they want me to try my hand at, I’ll be more than willing to do it.”

Learning a new offensive system on the fly is nothing new to Wells, who has played for the Eagles and Panthers the last two years after a seven-year run with the Cardinals. He was almost a Packer once before, having visited back in 2006 as a restricted free agent before re-signing with Arizona.

That decision helped get him to a Super Bowl two years later, and the combination of that heartbreaking defeat to Pittsburgh and Wells’ clock running out has him motivated to make another run at a ring.

“I’ve been on all kinds of different teams,” he said. “I’ve been on a team that was a few seconds away from winning it all, so I know what it takes to get there.

“But just like the guys who are here who weren’t on the (Packers’) Super Bowl team, or the guys who were and want another one, I want the exact same thing. I’m here to play ball.”

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