Usually, the Green Bay Packers wait until injuries strike during the regular season to play musical chairs with their offensive linemen.
This year, the musical chairs have started in the spring, with coach Mike McCarthy telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that right tackle Bryan Bulaga would replace Marshall Newhouse at left tackle and right guard Josh Sitton and left guard T.J. Lang would flip-flop sides.
Between those three changes and the late-season change from Jeff Saturday to Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, this year’s offensive line will have little resemblance to last year’s offensive line.
To start last season, the Packers lined up with Newhouse at left tackle, Lang at left guard, Saturday at center, Sitton at right guard and Bulaga at right tackle.
To start this season, the Packers figure to go with Bulaga at left tackle, Sitton at left guard, Dietrich-Smith at center, Lang at right guard and a big-time battle at right tackle. The leading contenders are 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod, who missed all of last season with a broken leg sustained in 2011, and Don Barclay, an undrafted rookie in 2012 who replaced the injured Bulaga at midseason.
“I sat down with Bryan and Josh on Monday, and I told them I wanted to make the move to where they're on the left side," McCarthy told the Journal Sentinel. "Those two are our most accomplished and experienced players. I told them about the responsibilities and my expectations about playing the left side.
"Some of the things we'll want to get into schematically as we move forward. They were excited about it.”
Bulaga, the team’s first-round pick in 2010, was drafted to replace longtime standout left tackle Chad Clifton. Instead, Bulaga was thrust into the lineup at right tackle during his rookie season when longtime stalwart Mark Tauscher sustained a season-ending shoulder injury.
The question about Bulaga entering the NFL was his 33 1/4-inch arms. Clifton’s arms, however, were about the same size, and Joe Thomas, who is considered the game’s premier left tackle, has 32.5-inch arms.
“I've never been in a situation in a football game where I have thought to myself after a play, ‘Gosh, I wish my arms were longer.’ I've never been in that situation,” Bulaga said to laughter after being drafted.
The change couldn't come at a better time financially, with Bulaga entering the final year under contract. Left tackle is a premier position; right tackle is not.
Meanwhile, Newhouse figures to be a long shot to start at right tackle, which is considered a power position. Run blocking is not the strength of Newhouse’s game. Barclay showed that run-blocking power and that was a strength to Sherrod’s game at Mississippi State.
“Derek, I’m really counting on Derek Sherrod to be a factor,” McCarthy said. “He’s a different man since the second surgery after the season. So, he’s making progress. I don’t have a timeline for you but he’s definitely a lot better than he was during the season. So, he’s someone we have to get healthy, get him in there and get him ready.”
At guard, McCarthy said “a lot of information went into that decision,” including watching Sitton playing left guard at the Pro Bowl. If Sitton has been the team’s best lineman, than Bulaga has been the second-best. In theory, the Packers now have a rock-solid left side to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. And, in theory, they’ll be better in the run game with Bulaga replacing Newhouse and the addition of running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the draft.
“You have to get these players evaluated because it’s a process that starts now,” McCarthy said at the draft. “It doesn’t just start in training camp and when you put the pads on.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.