Installment number three of our pre-training camp breakdown of the Packers depth chart involves the last position group on offense, the big fellas.
It was appalling to watch the 2012 training camp unfold with the serious lack of quality depth on the offensive line behind the expected starting lineup which included the one and done season of veteran free agent center Jeff Saturday. As the 2013 camp approaches, not a single opening day starter from last year will be in the same spot this September. The big surprise with the group this year is the flip flopping done by head coach Mike McCarthy. Bryan Bulaga moves from right tackle to left after his season was cut short by a hip injury. Josh Sitton bounces from right guard to left guard. T.J. Lang goes from left guard to right and Marshall Newhouse appears to have the inside track at right tackle after struggling on the left side last year. At center, Evan Dietrich-Smith assumes the position after taking over for Saturday in the final two regular season games and two playoff contests. McCarthy made the move after watching Aaron Rodgers get sacked 51 times in 2012. The offensive line was also charged with 26 of the 42 offensive penalties including 13 holds, 10 false starts and three times getting caught for illegal use of hands. McCarthy repeatedly said he's puting the team's best two lineman on the left side to better protect Rodgers. The musical chairs squad has had three weeks of organized team activities and mini-camp practices to get acquainted with the new stances, steps and view of the trenches.
As for that lack of depth, Don Barclay is one of four returning linemen but the only player to see significant snaps season, taking over for the injured Bulaga at right tackle. He more than held his own and the team hopes he continues to progress in year two after making the squad as an undrafted free agent. Greg Van Roten started the year on the practice squad, activated after five games and saw only spot duty, even as an extra tight end. Seventh round draft choice Andrew Datko never got off the practice squad. Arriving as a tackle, he got a look at guard this spring. Then there's Derek Sherrod, the former number one pick who has appeared in a grand total of five games as a professional. He suffered a horrible broken leg in week 15 of 2011 and we haven't gotten a glimpse since. Remember Mike Flanagan? He endured a similarly gruesome break and it took him two full years to recover before becomming an alternate Pro Bowl Center. Time will tell if it works out that well for Sherrod but time is getting late.
The Packers dipped into the collegiate tackle pool twice in the fourth round of this past April's draft, selecting David Bahktiari out of Colorado and J.C. Tretter from Cornell. Bahktiari looks the type and should provide spirited competition for the swing tackle. Tretter had a setback with a broken ankle suffered during the OTA's. The best of the rest appears to be Lane Taylor, a guard from Oklahoma State. He's earned a hard look when the pads go on. Kevin Hughes has been in a couple of NFL camps already and failed to stick and a pair of backup centers, Patrick Lewis and Garth Gerhart will have their work cut out for them to stick.
The key for the offensive line will be the ability of the coaching staff to teach the old dogs new tricks with everybody other than Dietrich-Smith playing at a foreign position. They'll have five weeks to figure it out later this summer.