By all accounts, the Green Bay Packers could have done a lot worse last season when starting left tackle Chad Clifton tore his right hamstring in Week 5. Not every team has a backup left tackle who can start for the majority of a season, but Marshall Newhouse's performance was credible enough to help the Packers' record-setting offense continue humming along.
It's one thing to provide competent emergency service, but quite another to be considered a starting left tackle in the NFL. That's the conclusion the Packers reached this offseason, penciling in Newhouse as their top option to replace the since-released Clifton on a permanent basis.
From the outside, it's fair to at least be nervous about that decision. Although the Packers hardly missed a beat after Clifton's injury, our friends at Pro Football Focus (PFF) suggest Newhouse had his share of struggles. In fact, PFF's cumulative grade of his performance was the lowest among qualifying left tackles in 2011. PFF had him giving up eight sacks, another eight quarterback hits and a total of 39 quarterback hurries in 13 starts.
Is Newhouse ready to be a full-time starter? The Packers will have some flexibility when 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod (leg) is ready to practice, but my time at the Packers' minicamp last month suggested the team has full confidence in the current arrangement.
"Marshall is at that point in his career," coach Mike McCarthy said, "and I think every player goes through it, where the people in the building have a lot more confidence in him than maybe the people outside. I just don't think people know much about him. He's progressed so much and you see the ability, especially the athletic ability.
"I think Marshall is going to be a good player for us. He made a huge jump last year and he's made another jump so far this year. Like all those guys, probably the most important statistic for Marshall Newhouse is availability. He definitely feels more comfortable now."
To me, the most important endorsement is the one quarterback Aaron Rodgers gave late last season. In December, Rodgers said he views Newhouse as "a guy who really has a strong, legitimate chance to be the left tackle of the future." Rodgers added: "I think he has the personality makeup to do that, the athletic ability to do that, the feet and the smarts to be a very, very solid left tackle for us."
Newhouse earned the benefit of the doubt from the Packers' key people last season. Whether he can take the final step is up to him.