Player to watch
The line shuffle is predicated on the thought that Bulaga, a 2010 first-round pick who began his NFL career at left tackle behind veteran Chad Clifton, will be an appreciable upgrade over Newhouse, who started 28 games there the past two seasons. Bulaga was a left tackle coming out of Iowa, and while he never publicly bellyached about not playing there, he will admit that it’s the position he prefers. Now, we’ll see if he’s up to the challenge. The concern is that Bulaga will struggle with speed rushers on that side, given that his worst game of the season last year – when he surrendered two sacks, one quarterback hit and eight hurries in 76 snaps against Seattle – came against Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks’ fast end. Don’t forget, he’s coming back from a hip injury that ended his season after 537 snaps and nine games. “It’s like a lefty batting right-handed and not being ambidextrous. You’re flipping sides, you’re flipping footwork,” Bulaga said. “I think it’s a little more physical than mental, just because what we’re doing mentally is just flipping calls and flipping plays in our head. That’s really all it is. The physical standpoint of footwork, hand placement, everything is turned around a little bit. It takes a little bit of time to get used to that.”
Depending on Sherrod’s health, it could end up being a three-way race for the job with Newhouse, Barclay and the 2011 first-rounder. But given the way Barclay was moving around during OTAs – from right tackle to right guard and even to center – the coaches could be prepping him for the primary backup job as a jack-of-all-trades sixth offensive lineman. Nevertheless, Newhouse will be pushed, and after initially feeling sorry for himself after what had to feel like a demotion, he seemed to rebound and had a good offseason, according to his coaches. “It’s motivation. I do realize they had to make a decision, and my play was part of them thinking they had to make a decision,” Newhouse said. “So I understand that, I accept that. But I also know I’ve had a lot of success, so I have to accept the role I’ve been given and go at it 100 percent. That’s all I can really do.”
Since taking over in 2005, general manager Ted Thompson has selected 17 offensive linemen in his nine drafts: Junius Coston (fifth round) and Will Whitticker (seventh) in 2005; Daryn Colledge (second), Jason Spitz (third) and Tony Moll (fifth) in 2006; Barbre (fourth) in 2007; Sitton (fourth) and Breno Giacomini (fifth) in 2008; Lang (fourth) and Jamon Meredith (fifth) in 2009; Bulaga (first) and Newhouse (fifth) in 2010; Sherrod (first) and Caleb Schlauderaff (sixth) in 2011; Datko (seventh) in 2012; and Bakhtiari (fourth) and Tretter (fourth) this year. There have been hits and misses, but the most important miss to date has been on Sherrod, who struggled early as a rookie in 2011 and hasn’t seen even the practice field for an 11-on-11 snap since breaking his leg in Kansas City in December 2011.
“Who knows what the emphasis is going to be, we’ll see during the season. Obviously, we have the best quarterback in the league, so I think we’re going to throw the ball like we always have. Hopefully with a mix of different guys – we have a lot of different talent at running back. We have big guys, small guys, they’re all different. I’m excited to see how these new kids run the ball. Who knows what the emphasis is going to be really until the season begins.” – Sitton, on whether the offensive linemen will be run-blocking more this season.
Next: Defensive line.
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.