OL: 2015 Packers by position
Taking a closer look at the offensive line as the Green Bay Packers prepare for training camp, which kicks off with its first practice on Thursday morning:
Mid. Tenn. St.
Can arguably the best offensive line in the NFL stay so healthy two years in a row?
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has made no bones about his belief that last year’s line was the best of his tenure, so it stands to reason that with Bulaga having re-signed, the Packers expect the unit to be even better this season.
“Well, I agree with Coach, and it should be better than it was last year. There’s a lot of continuity there,” offensive line coach James Campen said.
But as good as the group is – and it is an excellent group – part of that success was predicated on its health. Linsley, who took over the starting center job in the final week of the preseason after Tretter suffered a knee injury, took every single one of the Packers’ 1,214 offensive snaps (including playoffs) last season, while Bakhtiari (1,171), Sitton (1,160), Lang (1,110) and Bulaga (1,091) were over the 1,000-snap barrier, too. Bulaga was the one to miss a start – he injured his knee in the opener and didn’t play against the New York Jets in Week 2 – but Sitton (toe) and Lang (ankle) played through painful injuries for the second half of the season.
On the rise
Four years, four different opening-day centers. From Scott Wells (2011) to Jeff Saturday (2012) to Evan Dietrich-Smith (2013) to Linsley – but only after a knee injury knocked the presumptive new starter, Tretter, out for half the season – the center position has been a revolving door in Green Bay. Now, with how terrific Linsley was last season as a rookie – quarterback Aaron Rodgers was touting him as a Pro Bowl candidate late in the year – it appears the spinning can stop, as long as Linsley makes it through training camp unscathed.
Although Linsley played every offensive snap last season, Tretter provides a very good security blanket, assuming he doesn’t end up being trade bait late in camp to a team in need of a starting-caliber player. That said, it’s clear that Rodgers is a big Linsley fan – after being tough on the rookie early last season, his appreciation for the fifth-round pick from Ohio State just kept growing. Linsley as the look of a decade-long starter at the position, and as good as he was as a rookie, he’s got lots of room to grow.
“He had a good season for a rookie. He performed well for a rookie,” Campen said. “The expectations moving forward, he needs to have a good season for a second-year player. We fully expect him to do that.”
Player to watch
After back-to-back season-ending injuries – a hip injury midway through the 2012 season and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in training camp in 2013 – Bulaga came back last season and, by all accounts from the coaching staff, regained his pre-injury form as one of the NFL’s top right tackles. Although he was the only lineman to miss a start due to injury, he was able to make it through the season without anything significant happening to him and earned every penny of the $8 million in guaranteed money contained in his five-year, $33.75 million deal. Although the deal is structured to give the Packers some protection if injuries strike again, perhaps last season allowed Bulaga to finally put his bad luck behind him.
Final roster spots.
Hard to believe in the NFL in 2015 that a team could not only return all five of its starting offensive linemen, but four backups as well. But that’s what the Packers do this season, with Barclay back from his knee injury along with Tretter, Taylor and Gerhart. That’s probably part of the reason why general manager Ted Thompson didn’t take a single offensive lineman in the draft – after taking at least one in each of his previous 10 drafts in Green Bay. The challenge now will be for eighth and ninth spots on the line (if the Packers keep that many on the 53-man roster) as long as the Fab Five are intact.
“Certainly having all the guys back in the room is important – not just the starters, but all the other guys. It’s good to have everybody back. We have a lot of familiarity with people and now you can really focus on the fundamental, technical aspects of the game and you don’t have to come in and teach plays, you can really get specific with each player.” – Campen, on the depth throughout the room.