GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With all the focus on the changes the Green Bay Packers made on the offensive line this offseason, when coach Mike McCarthy flip-flopped the right and left sides, it is easy to forget there’s still an open competition for one position -- right tackle.
It’s the spot formerly held by Bryan Bulaga, who along with former right guard Josh Sitton moved to the left side. Marshall Newhouse, who started the past two seasons at left tackle but was wildly inconsistent, is now at right tackle and lined up next to right guard T.J. Lang, who played left guard the past two seasons.
Got all that?
Before you put everything in ink, Newhouse still has to win the right tackle spot. While Bulaga, Sitton, Lang, and even center Evan Dietrich-Smith are entrenched at their (new) spots, Newhouse still has much to prove. After allowing 10 sacks last year in the regular season, according to STATS, plus two more in the playoffs, Newhouse ran his sacks allowed total to 24½ for 2011 and 2012 combined.
Though Newhouse has taken the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense so far in training camp, the Packers have begun to work in second-year pro Don Barclay and rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari at times with the starters.
“Marshall’s been lining up with the first group, and someone’s going to have to beat his butt out of there,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “Marshall understands that. He knows there’s competition behind him.”
Here’s a look at the top-three competitors:
Newhouse: Even before he learned about the changes that were planned for the offensive line, Newhouse knew he needed to make significant improvements.
“It wasn’t like them moving me was a kick in the pants,” Newhouse said.
Though he wasn’t the sole reason quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times, Newhouse had a major hand in it. So it was surprising to hear Newhouse say his goal this offseason was to improve his run blocking. He said the film showed that he was too hesitant last season.
“He needs to finish better and he knows that,” Campen said. “He needs to finish better in the run game and not allow the unnecessary letting go of the guy at the very end.”
Still, protecting Rodgers is critical to the Packers’ success. In that regard, Newhouse has been only OK so far. He has a 5-2 mark in the one-on-one pass-blocking drill. The rest of the offensive line starters are a combined 22-2.
Barclay: The former undrafted free agent started the final six games at right tackle last season (including the two playoff games) following Bulaga’s hip injury. He has split his time in camp between right tackle and center, because Campen needs to find a backup for Dietrich-Smith. Barclay also has played some at guard. Because the Packers typically only dress seven offensive linemen, the backups need to play multiple spots. Though center is new for Barclay, he said learning a new position hasn’t detracted from his ability to compete for the right tackle job. But center has been a struggle. He has had several issues with quarterback exchanges both from under center and in the shotgun. If Barclay showed one thing in his late-season stint as a starter last season, it’s that he will battle.
“He’s going to put his head in there and give you hell going forward,” Campen said.
Barclay allowed 3½ sacks in the regular season last year, according to STATS, and one more in the playoffs, but he’s been excellent in the one-on-one drill this camp. He has a 17-3 record, and the three losses have come when he has been at either guard or center.
Bakhtiari: Some scouts viewed the fourth-round pick from Colorado as too light to play tackle in the NFL. He weighed 299 pounds at the combine and is listed at 300 now. By comparison, the Packers list Bulaga at 314, and Derek Sherrod (who remains on the physically unable to perform list) at 321. Both tackles were first-round picks. But Bakhtiari has impressed the coaches with his athleticism and intelligence. They tested his strength by using him with the starters in a goal-line period this week, and he has worked at both right and left tackle (where he admittedly is more comfortable). He has a 9-3 record in the one-on-drill.
“I think he’s someone who is worthy of more reps in furthering the competition along the offensive line,” McCarthy said. “He’s clearly one of the guys that has made a step in the padded work, so I’m very pleased with what he’s done so far.”