GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy ducked the question after the season, he ducked it at the NFL Meetings in Arizona and he ducked it last Saturday when the 2013 NFL Draft was over.
And now we know why the Green Bay Packers coach was dancing around inquiries about his offensive line all offseason: He had big changes in mind.
Confirming those changes to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, McCarthy said he has moved Bryan Bulaga to left tackle, Josh Sitton to left guard, T.J. Lang to right guard and has kicked off a three-way competition at right tackle among Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod. The changes took effect when Phase II of the Packers’ offseason program began this week.
The Packers’ offensive line to end last season was, from left to right, Newhouse at left tackle, Lang at left guard, Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, Sitton at right guard and Barclay at right tackle. Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury Nov. 4 and Sherrod hasn’t played since suffering a broken leg at Kansas City on Dec. 18, 2011.
"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 Silverstein in an interview. "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."
Later, McCarthy added, “I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have full confidence in Bryan. He's been here every day (in the offseason) and so I've seen him develop physically in all areas of his game. He's a very mature player.”
The move comes after quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times last season and the Packers’ running game ranked 20th in the league in rushing per game (106.4) and 22nd in yards per attempt (3.9).
McCarthy was asked directly at the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL Meetings if he was considering moving Bulaga to left tackle.
“The one thing about Marshall (when) you go back through the grades, Marshall played OK,” McCarthy said of Newhouse, who took over as the starting left tackle during veteran Chad Clifton’s injury-plagued 2011 season and started all 18 games (including playoffs) last year.
“We need some improvement from the left side of our line. If you’re breaking down the line as a whole, our left side and the center position, we need improvement there. I thought (right guard) Josh Sitton probably had his best year. And frankly, Bulaga and Barclay at right tackle with Josh was, we felt, a good combination. We need to get the left side to play better.”
McCarthy was asked the same question last Saturday, after the NFL Draft ended.
“We’ve talked a number of different things. I’d really like to get these young guys in here and to see how they fit,” McCarthy replied, referring to fourth-round picks David Bahktiari and J.C. Tretter. “Actually, (I) had some time to spend with (offensive line coach) James Campen and (offensive coordinator) Tom Clements this morning because anytime you do select players the first thing with an assistant coach is how do you rep these guys, who gets so many reps because it’s all about opportunities.
“You have to get these players evaluated because it’s a process that starts now. It doesn’t just start in training camp and when you put the pads on. So, on the field starting Monday, we’ll have some walk-throughs and on air we’ll be able to teach these new schemes and those reps are important. We’re actually working on that right now.”
The rookies, of course, won’t report until next week in advance of the team’s annual post-draft rookie orientation camp May 10-12.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Newhouse was charged with nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 37 quarterback pressures in 1,256 snaps in 18 games last season. Lang, who played through elbow and forearm injuries and missed one game, allowed nine sacks, five hits and 12 pressures in 1,149 snaps.
Bulaga, 24, was the team’s 2010 first-round pick who took over at right tackle during his rookie season – becoming the youngest player ever to start a Super Bowl – after veteran Mark Tauscher was injured. He insisted several times over his career that he could play left tackle, but was always willing to play the right side because the coaches told him they needed him there.
Bulaga only played 587 snaps last year because of the hip injury that ended his season, but before going down he allowed four sacks, three quarterback hits and 20 pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Of those, two sacks, one hit and eight pressures came in the Packers’ Week 3 loss at Seattle, when Bulaga had the worst night of his career.
Sitton went to his first Pro Bowl as an injury replacement last year and was charged with three sacks, two hits and 16 pressures by ProFootballFocus.com last season. McCarthy said he watched Sitton closely as he played left guard during the Pro Bowl.
“There was a lot of information that went into this decision,” McCarthy said of flip-flopping the guards. “T.J. just needs to get healthy. It should be an easy transition for him. He's played both the left side and the right side. If you go back, we're a little bit of an extension of where you put your athletic guy on the left and the more powerful guy on the right.
"There's some credence to going that way. But we're more diverse an offense than that. It's just important for both (guards) to understand the responsibility they have."
Barclay was a pleasant surprise as an undrafted rookie free agent when called upon to fill in for Bulaga after Lang struggled at right tackle. Barclay was inconsistent and was better as a run-blocker than pass-blocking, playing 459 snaps and being charged with five sacks, four hits and 19 pressures.
McCarthy said he plans on having Newhouse and Barclay compete at the position, with Sherrod serving as an alternative once he is cleared to play. McCarthy informed reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine that Sherrod had undergone a second surgery on his leg after the season and said after the draft ended on Saturday that he was hopeful that he’d be in the mix when organized team activity practices begin later this month.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.