It’s been five years since the Green Bay Packers’ last kept more than eight offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, but there's a possibly that trend will change this week.
The Packers will have to trim their roster to the mandatory 53-player limit by Saturday at 3 p.m. Central Time and perhaps one of the toughest calls general manager Ted Thompson and his staff will need to make is on the offensive line.
The Packers returned all five of their starters from a year ago in addition to four reserves with NFL experience. The only reserve who appears to be locked in is 2013 fourth-round pick JC Tretter, who’s also the primary backup at the only position (center) that’s not currently banged up.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga injured his left ankle in the first quarter of Saturday’s 39-26 loss to Philadelphia. Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), and guards Josh Sitton (ankle) and T.J. Lang (concussion) all sat out against the Eagles after not practicing all week.
All four likely were going to sit out of Thursday’s preseason finale against New Orleans regardless of injury. A year ago, only rookie center Corey Linsley played in the fourth exhibition game against Kansas City.
That gives the Packers one last look at who they want to hold onto from the field of Don Barclay, Lane Taylor, Garth Gerhart, Josh Walker and Jeremy Vujnovich, the five players who have taken a bulk of the second-team reps throughout camp.
Walker is one of three players in serious contention to make the jump from last year’s practice squad to the active roster, along with receiver Myles White and running back Rajion Neal. The 6-foot-5, 328-pound offensive lineman has built a strong resume with his ability to play both guard and tackle.
Walker alternated at right and left tackle against the Eagles, leading the offense with 68 snaps. Walker went to camp last year with Indianapolis where he got his first taste of playing left tackle.
“I don’t know what went on,” said Walker this past week. “I know Matt Hasselbeck came into the huddle and said, ‘Josh, you’re at left tackle.’ I finished off the game at left tackle. It was not pretty.
Who makes the cut? You be the GM with our Roster Builder
It’s a much difference situation in Green Bay. After the 2014 season ended, offensive line coach James Campen told Walker to prepare to play tackle. He worked on footwork during his training and returned for the offseason program noticeably leaner after dropping about 10 pounds.
“I have a lot more confidence playing outside now,” Walker said. “You have to explode off the football at tackle. Those ends, they’re freaks out there. It’s definitely a different set of passing. Working on my pass set, working on stretching landmarks. Getting my feet nice and quick.”
Barclay has the most experience of the group, starting 21 games (including playoffs) in 2012 and 2013 in place of an injured Bulaga. The fourth-year lineman missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament last summer.
He struggled in his first preseason action against New England and Pittsburgh, but put together his best performance of camp against the Eagles. Barclay was flagged once for holding and allowed a pressure, but otherwise kept the pocket clean for backup quarterback Brett Hundley.
“I think the first two games didn’t go as well as I wanted to,” Barclay said. “I think the biggest thing was taking things from those two games technique-wise and working on them as much as I can this week and just try to improve on them. I feel like I can build off this game.”
Barclay has worked at every spot on the Packers’ offensive line since he arrived in Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2012. The Packers valued his versatility enough to offer him a one-year, $1.54 contract as a restricted free agent this offseason.
Like Walker, Taylor came back leaner for his third camp with the Packers. He had a forgettable performance after relieving an injured Sitton in New Orleans last October. Gerhart, who has experience working at both center and guard, set a critical downfield block on Neal’s 34-yard touchdown Saturday.
Since keeping 10 in 2010, the Packers entered the season with eight offensive linemen on three occasions (2011, 2013, 2014) and seven once in 2012. Whoever makes it will need to be versatile to stay.
“That’s the life of a lineman,” Barclay said. “If you can switch around and play positions, that’s great. … I think guys took a big step today going where the coaches asked them to be. It’s always great to be able to do that.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod