Packers betting on opening line
GREEN BAY, Wis. — By Mike McCarthy’s math, the Green Bay Packers aren’t entering the 2012 NFL season with only seven offensive linemen. By the coach’s calculations, they’ve got 10.
OK, so three of them – Greg Van Roten, Andrew Datko and Chris Scott – are on the practice squad instead of the active roster. To McCarthy, that doesn’t matter.
So even though the Packers are carrying just seven offensive linemen on their opening-day 53-man roster for the first time in at least 20 years – dating back to the days of general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren, who never went so light on the line – McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson aren’t worried.
“I’m obviously comfortable or we wouldn’t be in this position,” McCarthy said Monday, as the team returned to practice in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. “We’ve been carrying seven offensive linemen on our 46 for some time now, so that’s really the focus.
“Having 10 linemen in-house with the seven offensive linemen on the 53 and the three practice squad players, I have a lot of confidence in the way we go about developing players year-round. We don’t just give our veterans or the guys that are playing on Sunday reps during the course of the week. We spend a lot of extra time with our younger players. For the most part, we’ve always had 10 offensive linemen in-house and that’s where we are today. I’m comfortable with that.”
Last season, the Packers had 10 different offensive linemen on the 53-man roster and carried at least two offensive linemen on the practice squad all year. And in 13 of their 17 games (including the playoff loss to the New York Giants), they dressed only seven linemen on their 46-man game-day roster.
The four times they dressed eight linemen – against St. Louis, at Kansas City, against Detroit in the regular-season finale and in the season-ending loss to the Giants – the only time they had to play seven linemen was against the Chiefs, when both Bryan Bulaga (knee) and Derek Sherrod (broken leg) suffered injuries, forcing left guard T.J. Lang to move to right tackle.
Lang moving to tackle is clearly the Packers’ backup plan entering this season, as the only two backups on the 53-man roster are interior jack-of-all-trades Evan Dietrich-Smith and undrafted rookie free agent tackle Don Barclay. If something happens to Lang, center Jeff Saturday or right guard Josh Sitton, Dietrich-Smith will come off the bench at their spot; if something happens to Bulaga or left tackle Marshall Newhouse, Lang will move to tackle and Dietrich-Smith will take Lang’s spot at left guard.
Last season, the Packers had Newhouse at the ready when first Bulaga and then Clifton went down, and behind Newhouse, they had Sherrod. When Bulaga was inactive and Clifton suffered a torn hamstring at Atlanta last Oct. 9, Newhouse started at right tackle and moved to left tackle to replace Clifton, with Sherrod taking over at right tackle.
“I don’t think it’s any different from any other year, really. Except last year we had Derek in there a couple games,” Lang said Monday. “I don’t think it’s unexpected. I think everybody’s got to kind of know different positions and obviously the plan is for everybody to stay healthy so we don’t have to bounce around. But if an emergency situation does come about, I feel like I’ll be ready to pop out wherever they need me.”
Lang said he only took a few snaps at tackle during individual periods in practice Monday, but “I always try to get a couple reps in when I can so I stay up with the techniques. It’s going to be something I have to do all year is make sure I get a couple reps in at all the different spots, because you never know.”
The Packers find themselves thin on the line on the 53-man roster because a) none of the young offensive linemen other than Barclay proved worthy of a spot on the roster; b) Sherrod will miss at least the first six weeks after being placed on the physically unable to perform list at the final roster reduction on Friday; and c) none of the offensive linemen released by other teams merited being claimed on waivers or signed off the street.
“This is the first year that I’ve been here that we’ve only kept seven. Last year we kept eight, we thought that was a small number,” Lang said. “But we feel good about the group we’ve got. We’ve got six guys who’ve played a lot of football, (and) we’ve got Donny, who’s done a lot of nice things in camp. I think people feel comfortable if we need to use him. And it’s just a matter of time before Derek gets back and gets healthy.
“I think staying healthy up front for us is going to be key. With only keeping seven guys, we’re definitely going to have to do our best to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to stay healthy and be available and accountable every game, every practice, every day.”