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OL: Packers offseason by position

Players under contract
No.
Name
Pos.
Ht.
Wt.
Age
Exp.
College
65
Sampson Genus
C
6-1
315
23
 R
S. Florida
62
Evan Dietrich-Smith
C/G
6-2
308
25
 2
Idaho St.
70
T.J. Lang
G
6-4
318
24
3
E. Michigan
71
Josh Sitton
G
6-3
318
25
4
Cent. Florida
73
Ray Dominguez
G/T
6-4
334
23
R
Arkansas
75
Bryan Bulaga
T
6-5
314
22
2
Iowa
69
Chris Campbell
T
6-5
328
25
1
E. Illinois
76
Chad Clifton
T
6-5
320
35
12
Tennessee
74
Marshall Newhouse
T
6-4
319
23
 2
TCU
72
Herb Taylor
T
6-4
305
27
3
TCU
78
Derek Sherrod
T/G
6-5
321
22
R
Miss. St.
 
Free agents
No.
Name
Pos.
Ht.
Wt.
Age
Exp.
College
63
Scott Wells
C
6-2
300
31
 8
Tennessee

The good news:  Coming out of training camp, observers wondered about the line’s depth. But as it turned out, the Green Bay Packers coaching staff knew what it was doing. Only eight linemen were kept to start the season – starters Clifton, Lang, Wells, Sitton and Bulaga, and backups Dietrich-Smith, Newhouse and Sherrod – and given the inexperience of the reserves, it seemed like a valid criticism of the composition of the 53-man roster. When Bulaga suffered a knee injury in Week 3 at Chicago on Sept. 25 and Clifton went down with a torn hamstring on Oct. 9 in Atlanta, that depth was tested. As it turned out, Newhouse essentially saved the Packers’ season by filling in effectively at both tackle spots. The second-year man from TCU was far from perfect – according to ProFootballFocus.com, he played 966 snaps in the Packers’ 17 games and gave up nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and a team-high 41 pressures – but he also had standout performances (at Detroit on Thanksgiving most notably). He’s extremely intelligent and has great feet, both of which serve him well. When a rusty Clifton looked bad in the NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Giants, coach Mike McCarthy didn’t hesitate to bench him in favor of Newhouse. That was likely a preview of 2012, when Clifton is unlikely to return.

The bad news:  Had Packers general manager Ted Thompson known that Newhouse would emerge after not playing a single snap last season, perhaps he wouldn’t have taken Sherrod with the team’s first-round pick. But given his best-player-available mantra, if he had Sherrod rated ahead of, say, Arizona defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Brooks Reed, then he wouldn’t have taken Reed simply out of need at OLB. With veteran Mark Tauscher on his way out and Clifton not getting any younger, picking a left tackle for the second straight year in the first round made some sense. Unfortunately, Sherrod looked nothing like Bulaga, who acted like a veteran from Day 1 in 2010, became the youngest player to start a Super Bowl in NFL history and improved significantly in Year 2. Given the chance to compete with Lang at left guard in training camp, he was out of place. Then, when he returned to his natural position of left tackle, he was just plain bad the rest of the preseason. How much he had improved by the time the coaches started rotating him in for snaps is open to debate. But when he suffered a broken leg at Kansas City on Dec. 18 – an injury that required immediate surgery – his development likely slowed to a crawl. He won’t be able to do much of anything during the offseason, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready for training camp. For a player who looked less NFL-ready than most folks expected, that’s a significant setback.

The big question: There’s no question that McCarthy wants Wells to return. He made that abundantly clear when asked about the first-time Pro Bowl selection and impending unrestricted free agent in his post-season press conference. “He’s the center in a multi-scheme offense. More importantly, he’s a heck of a football player,” McCarthy said. “I make no bones about it, I told Scott I hope we’re working together again next year. He’s going into free agency, and we’ll see what happens. But Scott Wells has been a very valuable member of our football team. I think he’s done an excellent job the last couple years. I would say he’s clearly the best lineman we’ve had this year, as far as performance. It’s nice to see him being recognized as a Pro Bowl center. I hope we can get it worked out.” But will it get worked out? Reports late in the regular season indicated the sides were far apart on Wells’ monetary value, and if a deal is going to get done before the March 13 opening of free agency, don’t expect it until the 11th hour. If Wells departs, another big question emerges: Is Dietrich-Smith capable of taking over as the starter? At this point, Dietrich-Smith is best known for being on the receiving end of Ndamukong Suh’s Thanksgiving Day stomp.

Offseason outlook: While Wells is the only free agent in the group, a decision on Clifton looms. He has a $5.75 million cap number and $5.25 million base salary for 2012, and given that he turns 36 on June 26, it seems likely that he’s played his final snap for the team. That leaves Bulaga, Newhouse or Sherrod to replace him protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. While he hasn’t publicly lobbied for the opportunity, Bulaga thinks of himself as a left tackle and would like the opportunity to compete for the job. Newhouse played both spots during the 2011 season because of injuries to Clifton and Bulaga, so he’s also an option. Then there’s Sherrod, who must get healthy, then get better before being considered for the assignment. Campbell spent much of the year on the practice squad and is also an interesting prospect who’ll benefit from the offseason program. If Wells departs as a free agent, Dietrich-Smith and Genus, an undrafted free agent who is undersized but intriguing, will be the only remaining centers on the roster.

Next: Defensive line.

– Jason Wilde

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