Previews: Packers' re-shuffled offensive line, special teams
Guard/tackle Don Barclay. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Wayne Larrivee. CREATED Jul 26, 2013
The offensive line has to be listed as a question mark going into this season for no other reason besides that it has been completely reshuffled. If healthy, I believe this unit will come together, do a better job in pass protection and become a solid run blocking line.
The Packers two best offensive linemen are Josh Sitton at guard and Bryan Bulaga at tackle. They will move from the right side to the left in order to protect Rodgers' blind side.
T.J. Lang, an emerging guard moves from left to right and a battle is shaping up at right tackle between former left tackle Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay and former number one draft pick Derek Sherrod, if healthy, at right tackle.
Only Evan Dietrich-Smith and Barclay return to the positions the played at the end of last season.
We mentioned pass protection is the primary reason they have made these moves but don’t forget, if the Packers are to become an effective running team, it will have to start up front.
Assuming Bulaga and Sitton are solid on the left side, I believe T.J. will be fine at right guard so the key is finding an effective right tackle.
Newhouse struggled at times on the left side, he is more of an athletic finesse type blocker and the right tackle position generally employs a “road grader” type mentality.
Barclay made the team as a non drafted free agent last year and took over for the injured Lang at right tackle week 14.
Sherrod was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft to eventually play left tackle. A devastating leg injury at Kansas City ended his rookie season prematurely and wiped out all of last year. How quickly he is able to regain his footing will go a long way to determining if he competes for this position.
Other possibilities at right tackles would figure to be Andrew Datko, a former 7th round draft pick out of Florida State, and David Bakhtiari, this year’s 4th round pick from Colorado.
One other factor to consider is this: Bulaga was on his way to a Pro Bowl at right tackle.
There is no doubt he can be an elite player at that position, but can he be a dominant left tackle? He played on the left side at Iowa but the NFL is a whole different animal.
Place kicker Mason Crosby struggled last year, making just 21 of 33 field goal attempts, and this summer he has competition - Giorgio Tavecchio, a strong-legged kicker who tried San Francisco last year.
Punter Tim Masthay has been outstanding. Last year, he tied his team record with 30 punts inside the twenty yard line. He also set a team record for net punting average (38.93 yards) and has averaged 44.2 yards in gross punting since 2010.
Coverage units allowed 23.4 yards per kickoff return with a long of 41 yards and a manageable 7.5 per punt return with a long of 25 yards.
The return game has been a weapon since Randall Cobb took over, in 2011 but with his increased feature role in the wide receiver corps, the Packers are looking to take this role off his plate.
So going into camp, the return job is wide open and a number of players were auditioned in the OTAs and minicamp this spring.
Jeremy Ross would appear to have the inside track. He took over when Cobb was out week 17 of the regular season.
Ross averaged 25.8 yards per punt return at Minnesota and 28.7 per kickoff return, but in the playoff game at San Francisco his muffed punt deep in Green Bay territory in the first half helped turn the tide of that game.
While the Packers are hoping to find an alternative to Cobb at this position, if no one emerges, don’t be surprised if Cobb is back there come opening day.
Hope to see you at camp. Football is back!!