With one twist of a knee, a massive monkey wrench was thrown into Mike McCarthy’s master plan to protect franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Barring the acquisition of a street free agent – none of which inspire much confidence anyway – let’s look at the Packers’ best options currently on the roster:
Conventional NFL wisdom dictates that for a right-handed quarterback, the most talented offensive linemen play on the left side (for the logic behind the rationale, watch the first five minutes of The Blind Side and pay attention to Sandra Bullock’s charming, fake southern drawl).
This offseason the Packers’ brain trust chose to abide by that tradition by switching their two most talented linemen – Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton and the former first round tackle Bryan Bulaga – from the right side to the left side. It was a bold decision that, although unusual, made sense on paper. However, now that presumptive left tackle Bryan Bulaga is done for the season with a torn ACL, it’s time to rethink the strategy moving forward.
7. Kevin Hughes
At A Glance: 6-4, 304 lbs. Second year out of Southeastern Louisiana. Signed as a free agent in 2013.
Who He Is: Hughes is a mauling, physical run blocker who has struggled to adapt to the strength of NFL defensive linemen. Although his technique and awareness in the passing game are questionable, he plays more athletic than his tested attributes indicate. Hughes is a developmental prospect who in all likelihood is playing for a spot on the practice squad, not the 53 man roster.
Looking Through Green and Gold Glasses: Hughes is a gamer, and gamers tend to out produce their scouting reports and tested measurables. As a relative unknown, Hughes has no pressure to perform and has the potential to surprise people.
A Cynic Would Say: Who? This guy isn’t ready for primetime. Pick up Graham Harrell on your fantasy team if this guy is the Packers’ starting LT.
Final Verdict: As a developmental prospect stashed on the practice squad, Hughes has value. As the only person between Aaron Rodgers and a maladjusted defensive end he does not. Let’s hope he never sees a snap with 12 behind center.
6. Andrew Datko
At A Glance: 6-6, 315 lbs. 2nd year out of Florida State. 7th round draft pick in 2012.
Who He Is: A once highly touted prospect who had his draft stock pummel due to a lingering shoulder injury, Andrew Datko was the perfect developmental late round pick. Although his collegiate injury hampered him throughout his rookie season, he stuck on the practice squad and signed on to the 53 late in the season. A full professional offseason has helped the glaring lack of NFL strength, and he’s looking to build on his relative success and take meaningful snaps.
Looking Through Green and Gold Glasses: Datko was once thought of as a 1st or 2nd round pick for a reason. He understands the game and fits the Packers’ scheme well. With a full season under his belt there’s a possibility he’ll progress into a serviceable player and be able to hold his own in pass protection.
A Cynic Would Say: The guy was a turnstile last preseason at LT, and only made the practice squad because of miserable competition at the bottom of the depth chart. His addition to the 53 roster was due to injury, not merit, and the only noticeable plays he’s had this training camp have been when Datone Jones deposits him on his soon-to-be-cut rear end. If he lines up at LT – or RT for that matter – when Aaron Rodgers is at QB, McCarthy should be fired on the spot.
Final Verdict: Datko hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, and word is he’s improved from his dismal rookie training camp. That said, right now he just isn’t a starting caliber NFL LT. He may one day develop into one, but right now playing Andrew Datko on the left side of the line would be nothing short of a catastrophe.
5. Josh Sitton
At A Glance: 6-3, 318 lbs. 6th year out of Central Florida. 4th round draft pick in 2008.
Who He Is: Josh Sitton is a strong, mauling guard. Considered to be the best offensive lineman on the Packers, Sitton is a road grader who plays with a nasty demeanor. Sitton excels in the ground game, but sets himself apart as a truly elite pass blocking guard. Although his play has plateaued since making the Pro Bowl in 2010, he has remained consistently excellent. While moving Bulaga to LT was credited as the key element to flipping the Packers’ offensive line – and rightfully so – getting Sitton to the left side to help with opponents’ best pass rushers was an important factor as well.
Looking Through Green and Gold Glasses: With Bulaga done, Sitton is the best offensive lineman on the Packers, and it’s not close. The math is simple: take your best offensive lineman, and put him in the most important position. Sitton played tackle at South Florida, so he’s familiar with the position. One-on-one versus a pass rusher – as left tackles often are – Sitton is the most trustworthy of all the remaining Packer offensive linemen.
A Cynic Would Say: Sitton may have played tackle in college, but he was moved to guard because he simply isn’t built to be a NFL left tackle. While he’s a Pro Bowl caliber guard, there’s no knowing how he’ll play at tackle.
Final Verdict: Although I have no doubt Sitton would be serviceable as a left tackle, it makes no sense to force your best player so dramatically out of his comfort zone. And that isn’t even considering the glaring hole it would expose at LG. To ask Sitton to not only switch sides, but simultaneously switch positions would take a great player and make him pedestrian. The Packers are better off with a different option.
4. Don Barclay
At A Glance: 6-4, 305 lbs. Second year out of West Virginia. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
Who He Is: Barclay is a slightly undersized offensive lineman who immediately improved the Packers’ running game when he was inserted into the starting lineup last season. His technique is still raw; he has a tendency to play top-heavy and can get caught lunging at times in pass protection. Still, what he lacks in technique he makes up for in instincts and effort. He’s a mauler who the Packers have tried at nearly every position on the offensive line.
Looking Through Green and Gold Glasses: Barclay came out of nowhere last season to play surprisingly well at RT. With a full professional offseason and the accompanying progression it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d become an adequate left tackle. At the very least the run game will improve.
A Cynic Would Say: Let’s not forget what Don Barclay is. He’s an undrafted rookie who exceeded minimal expectations with tons of help last year. To assume he’d be able to man the left side is ludicrous.
Final Verdict: The Packers clearly see value in Barclay as it seems as though they’re training him to be a jack-of-all-trades backup, and Barclay very well may see meaningful snaps at right tackle where his prowess in the run game is in full display and his shortcomings in the passing game are less crippling. But the only time he’ll see regular season playing time at left tackle is as an in-game injury replacement.
Tomorrow, by 9 AM CDT, we will reveal the last remaining and top three candidates, along with our choice to be Bulaga’s replacement. Who do you think should take over for the injured Bulaga at left tackle? Let us know by commenting below.
Ian Culver is the newest writer to The Sports Bank community and brings a vast knowledge of Wisconsin Sports and marketing. In fact, Culver spends a ton of his free time putting together scouting reports on any athlete to join one of the state’s professional teams. You can follow him on twitter @mushroomcloudmf.
*Pictures obtained from jsonline.com.