The protection in front of Aaron Rodgers has been a rollercoaster ride since the 2011 MVP took over as starter four years ago. Rodgers found the turf often in 2008 and was lucky to play a full season in 2009. With two respectable seasons now under their belt, it’s time for the offensive line to take it to the next level. The barrier to becoming a consistently elite front five? The uncertain picture at tackle.
Let’s put the Scott Wells and Chad Clifton talk to the side here. For a quarterback to have sustainable production in this league, he must receive consistent protection from his tackles – namely the blindside blocker. Rodgers needs exactly that from Clifton’s heir at left tackle. Green Bay has four potential paths to take, starting with the most obvious: Derek Sherrod.
Ted Thompson added Sherrod last April with the expectation that the Mississippi State product would eventually complete the picture at tackle. Is this fall considered “eventually”? Sherrod’s serious injury in the Week 15 loss to the Chiefs puts a spin on that timetable. A poor recovery this offseason would hinder Sherrod’s development and likely delay his debut as starter until at least mid-season.
If Sherrod is slow to recover – or simply struggles in training camp – the choice to go with Marshall Newhouse should be a popular one among the coaches. Newhouse gets an A+ for his ability to readily fill in last fall but does not present the same textbook tackle build as Sherrod. Regardless, Newhouse could quickly become one of the Packers’ more valuable linemen due to his versatility.
A third option at left tackle that has been entertained in the Packers blogosphere is the move of right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga was seen as a franchise left tackle by many teams prior to the 2010 draft despite his unusually short arms for a tackle. At the minimum, Bulaga could take over on Rodgers’ blindside until Sherrod matures. The question then becomes, could the left side-oriented Newhouse produce on the right side?
The final and least anticipated option at left tackle is the drafting of another first-day tackle. This year’s tackle class is no where near as top-heavy as last year’s; however, a slip of say, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin could tempt Thompson the same way he was lured into Bulaga in 2009. The difference, of course, is that the Packers now have three capable tackles on the roster and need help on defense. At the same time, when has need factored into Thompson’s drafts?
If you’re looking to establish an offensive line built to produce for years to come, Sherrod is the best bet. The situation is highly complex, however, as illustrated above. Which is worse: playing musical chairs at tackle for another season or inserting Sherrod into the mix too early? Most would say the latter. But, the fact remains: the Packers must establish some consistency along the offensive line sooner or later.