Green Bay Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse is all smiles during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
If there was any question whether Marshall Newhouse would be the Green Bay Packers’ left tackle to start this season, there isn’t anymore.
The third-year pro has had a mostly solid first week of training camp protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side, while the only player with a genuine chance to beat him out, Derek Sherrod, is out indefinitely after failing his pre-camp physical because of a broken lower leg sustained last December.
So even after Newhouse’s first rough patch of camp, on Wednesday when outside linebacker Clay Matthews beat him for sacks twice in team drills and once in one-on-ones, it’s clear Newhouse is holding onto the left tackle position.
He’s played better than last season, when he had 13 starts in place of injured Chad Clifton, and so far in camp has taken virtually all the snaps at left tackle with the No. 1 offense.
“Every good player’s going to have a couple (bad) plays here and there,” offensive line coach James Campen said after Wednesday’s practice. “(Newhouse) had a couple plays he’d like back (against Matthews). Again, we’re working on things to get him ready for the opener.”
Meanwhile, Sherrod’s status remains uncertain. The 2011 first-round draft pick no longer is walking with the slight limp he showed during offseason practices, which suggests he’s getting closer to returning, but all coach Mike McCarthy would say Wednesday is that Sherrod will not be back this week.
But even if Sherrod returns next week, which appears to be a stretch, he would need time to ease back into football shape after being sidelined since last December, when he broke both bones in his lower right leg. Compound that with the critical skills and strength work Sherrod missed while sitting out the entire offseason workout program, and it’s unrealistic to think the second-year pro could challenge Newhouse at this point.
It’s also become more obvious a week into Newhouse’s third training camp that he has many of the qualities it takes to be a good left tackle in the NFL.
He has a good combination of size (6-foot-3¾, 319 pounds) and arm length (34 inches), is smart (34 on the Wonderlic intelligence test), and he’s plenty athletic enough to mirror the game’s most explosive pass rushers.
“The first thing you notice is (Newhouse’s) feet, he’s got great feet,” said T.J. Lang, who plays left guard alongside Newhouse. “Actually reminds me a lot of Chad (Clifton) the way he can slide his feet and get in front of guys.
“And (Newhouse) is a smart guy. You never have to worry about the mental aspect of the game, he knows where he’s going, he knows exactly what he needs to do. Those two things stick out. He’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a lot of potential to be very good for us.”
Newhouse has been more consistent in camp than he was last season, when in most games he was prone to a couple snaps on which he was beaten badly, often because he would overthink his matchup. In camp practices he’s facing a high level of competition on many snaps when matched against Matthews, who in the offseason moved from left outside linebacker to the right side.
Wednesday’s practice was the first in which Matthews beat him badly on multiple snaps.
“I have to tell you, Clay is tough to block, he really is,” Lang said. “He’s strong, he’s a freak athlete with how fast and quick he is. There’s been days where (Newhouse) has kept Clay quiet, and there’s been times where Clay’s gotten by him. That’s just part of them going against each other all day, 30, 40, 50 reps a day. They start to learn each other.”
Whether Newhouse becomes the Packers’ long-term answer at left tackle depends on how much he elevates his play by the end of this season. The Packers were convinced from his 13 starts last year, even while he allowed 11½ sacks, that he has the abilities to be their answer for the most difficult position on the offensive line.
“Because he keeps improving,” Campen said. “He improved even when (difficult) things were happening during the season, or things he saw (in practice Wednesday) that were different, Marshall’s always responded and improved. He does a very good job detailing his work, he’s a very cerebral guy that understands the position he’s in, what’s asked of him, and I think he’s going to progress.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.