Green Bay Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga, right, works against Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo during the first quarter of the game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Oct. 10, 2010. / File/Press-Gazette
Position analysis series
Pete Dougherty breaks down the Packers by position heading into training camp:
Today: Offensive linemen
Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr.
Adrian Battles G 6-3 318 1
Bryan Bulaga T/G 6-5 314 2
Chris Campbell T 6-5 328 1
Chad Clifton T 6-5 320 12
Daryn Colledge G 6-4 308 6
Evan Dietrich-Smith C/G 6-2 308 2
T.J. Lang T/G 6-4 318 3
Nick McDonald C/G 6-4 316 2
Marshall Newhouse G/T 6-4 319 2
Caleb Schlauderaff G 6-4 302 R
Derek Sherrod T/G 6-5 321 R
Josh Sitton G 6-3 318 4
Jason Spitz C/G 6-3 305 6
Scott Wells C 6-2 300 8
In the last two NFL drafts, General Manager Ted Thompson has invested major resources into rebuilding the Green Bay Packersí offensive line for the all-important job of protecting the teamís most valuable asset, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
A year from now, Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod, Thompsonís first-round picks the past two NFL drafts, probably will be the Packersí starting tackles.
But itís not clear where theyíll be playing for the 2011 season, or whether Sherrod even will be in the starting lineup.
Last season, after Mark Tauscher injured a shoulder in Week 4, Bulaga started at right tackle and provided quality play there the rest of the year. Whether thatís his long-term position is another question.
After drafting Sherrod in the first round, the Packers have had to decide where to play Bulaga and Sherrod, beginning with the assumption Chad Clifton at age 35 has one more year as a starter in him at left tackle but figuring either Bulaga or Sherrod will be replacing him next year.
The Packers know Bulaga can play right tackle, and after last season think heís athletic enough to succeed Clifton. Down the stretch of their Super Bowl season, Rodgers said as much when several times he casually referred to Bulaga as the left tackle of the future.
Sherrod, like Bulaga, played left tackle in college, and the Packers think he might be able to play there in the NFL, too. But he also projects to right tackle and even guard, and they wanted to see him practice in person before deciding where to play him. The NFL lockout prevented that, but after spending a first-round draft pick you can bet the Packers will give Sherrod every chance to win a starting job somewhere along their offensive line as a rookie, even if itís not at his long-term spot.
The biggest factor in where the two line up when camp opens this week is what happens with free agent Daryn Colledge, the durable left guard who hasnít missed a game in his five seasons in the NFL. The Packers have at least two young linemen they think are ready to play in T.J. Lang and Sherrod, which will temper their offer to Colledge at a position where Thompson has been reluctant to spend money anyway. So chances are another team with less depth will offer a substantially better contract.
Assuming Colledge leaves, the Packers will have several options to replace him, and maybe the first is to move Bulaga to left guard to prepare him to take over for Clifton next year, or even this season if Clifton breaks down. The thinking among many NFL teams is the transition to left tackle is easier from the same side of the ball, left guard, than after playing in the mirror image at right tackle.
If Bulaga is at left guard when camp opens, itís a sign the Packers see him as their future left tackle, though there would be nothing stopping them from concluding left guard ultimately is his best position after seeing him there.
They also could leave Bulaga at right tackle, where heís proven he can play well. Either way, Sherrod presumably will compete with Lang for the starting job at whichever position Bulaga isnít, right tackle or left guard.
It also appears former right tackle Tauscherís fine career with the Packers has come to a close. Two reconstruction surgeries on his left knee, the second in 2008, plus the shoulder injury from last year have taken a toll on a 34-year old who had been their rock at right tackle since his rookie season in 2000. The Packers will need salary-cap room when the new league year starts this week, and they can pick up $4.1 million by cutting him.
The Packers could bring Tauscher back as a backup, but thereís no indication they want to at the expense of developing other young linemen on their roster. He could sign with another team or wait until a club is desperate for a lineman during the season.
Lang, in the meantime, was something of a forgotten man last season after a promising rookie year in 2009 included three starts ó two at left tackle, one at right tackle ó as a fourth-round draft pick. The Packersí coaching staff has been debating since his arrival whether his best position is guard or right tackle and were hoping heíd compete for a starting job last season. But wrist surgery in April 2010 prevented him from participating in any meaningful offseason work, and he was so rusty in training camp he never challenged for a starting job.
Thereís also the question of whether Clifton will make it through the season after his surprising bounce back last year. In the game against Buffalo, Cliftonís chronically sore knees hindered him so much the Packers pulled him from the game for poor performance. Bulaga was fine in his stead, and it looked like it might be the end of Cliftonís excellent career as a starter.
But Clifton regrouped the next week against Chicago, went the rest of the season without incident and played his best football down the stretch, when older, banged up players often fade. The Packers have long experience managing Cliftonís practice schedule, and he didnít have any surgeries in the offseason, so thereís reason to think he has another year left in him. But at 35 the odds are only going up heíll hit the performance or injury wall.
The Packersí best lineman last season was right guard Josh Sitton, who made enough of a name in the teamís Super Bowl run that heíll be a front-runner for his first Pro Bowl this year. The fourth-year pro also is in the final year of his contract, and along with tight end Jermichael Finley is at the top of the list of players likely to sign contract extensions during the season.
Center Scott Wells also is back after having one of his best seasons. His mastery of the teamís blocking schemes has helped him hold the starting job for most of the last six seasons, but he is in the last year of his contract.
Nick McDonald, a gamer who made the team as an undrafted rookie last year, probably will be Wellsí backup, though McDonald might get a shot at left guard as well.
The Packers also have two young recent draft picks who will be trying to show they have a future as starters.
Marshall Newhouse, a fifth-round pick last year, has good arm length (34 inches) and size (6-foot-4 and 319 pounds), and last year showed signs he might be able to play left tackle in the NFL.
Caleb Schlauderaff (6-4, 302), a sixth-round pick this year, is a fighter at guard who could have a chance if he bulks up.
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