The Packers offensive line was a definite strength last season. Even with a major change at the left guard position, Lane Taylor was more than adequate, especially as a run blocker but also had a huge block on a linebacker in space that made it possible for Aaron Rodgers to throw the critical completion to Jared Cook in the Divisional round against the Cowboys.
But the O-line is a question for some and there are reasons for that trepidation. Let’s break it down.
Exit of TJ
The exit of TJ Lang is, of course the biggest hit that the O-line took, but losing Tretter too made things a bit worse. Lang was a pro-bowler and a total Packers homer…one of the best in the business. Can he be replaced? Likely not. But the Packers brought in Jahri Evans who helped the Saints as a re-signed stop-gap last year. Evans brings experience and a big body to the right side of the line. He is a bruising run blocker and may experience a Renaissance with the Packers. Working with leaders like Brian Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, Evans will learn the system from the best. The big question mark would be his impact in the passing game. Aaron Rodgers expects his linemen to hold for up to 7 plus seconds and Evans is not built for that. TJ Lang was an excellent downfield blocker and had the athleticism to stay in plays that other linemen couldn’t keep up with. I don’t expect Evans to have the same range so all in all, I don’t see a step forward, but not a big step back either. The Packers’ coaching staff has had nothing but praise for Evans and frankly I am glad that we signed him and think he will be an adequate replacement for Lang.
Injury to Corey Linsley
Corey Linsley’s injury has Don Barclay taking reps at the center position. While Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ coaching staff applaud Barclay’s versatility, it is certainly less than ideal to think that he takes too many reps at the position. Linsley has been good since he came to the team, but he lost his job due to injury when JC Tretter stepped in. Tretter is now gone but injuries remain…this could be a concern for the lynchpin of the O-line that has to protect the franchise.
But Linsley says he feels as good as he has in a year and a half and the work done on his foot and ankle should only make him better. If Linsley comes back to full strength, the center position should be fine. After taking over for Tretter last year, Linsley has plenty of experience and if he can stay healthy should be a strength.
Youth and developmental players
Coach McCarthy is on record as saying that Jason Spriggs has the tools to be a left tackle in the league. This is sad on the one hand but on the other hand, I can’t imagine having a better backup in case the worst happens to one of our tackles. We’ll all knock on wood that everyone stays healthy, but Spriggs may be a big help if anything should happen to Bulaga or Bakhtiari.
The Packers still have depth beyond that though. Kyle Murphy should benefit from a full off-season and draftee Kofi Amichia is a raw talent that should have a chance to develop.
While there are question marks on this year’s offensive line, most of them should work themselves out. Like any year, the team has to stay healthy, work together and gel. Training camp will be the beginning but the goal should be to have this line together and running like clockwork by the third game of the pre-season. The season starts with a bang against the Seahawks and the offense cannot afford to be out of sync. If they pull it together and Linsley is healthy, the Packers have a chance to start the season strong.