Packers by Position: OL

Despite spending their first-round draft picks in both 2010 and 2011 on collegiate left tackles, when the Green Bay Packers open training camp on Thursday, they’ll do so with Marshall Newhouse, a 2010 fifth-round pick from Texas Christian, as their No. 1 left tackle.

“I would say so,” offensive line coach James Campen said.

Whether it stays that way or not will depend on not only how Newhouse performs but whether 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod, who is coming off a stomach-turning broken leg suffered Dec. 18 at Kansas City, is fully recovered in time to compete for the job. While Sherrod could participate in the first practice Thursday morning, there’s also a chance won’t pass his pre-camp physical or be on a limited schedule.

“Marshall played a lot at left tackle last year so that has to make you feel good. With that experience, he should be better,” new offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “Hopefully, Derek can be ready for training camp. When he did play, he played well. Those are two young guys with a lot of talent. We just have to make sure we get the best out of them.”

Coach Mike McCarthy has already determined that 2010 first-round pick Bryan Bulaga will stay put at right tackle, where he believes Bulaga could be a Pro Bowl player. Sherrod, who opened training camp last year in a competition for the starting left guard job that T.J. Lang ended up winning in a rout, was unimpressive at both guard and tackle in camp but the coaches claim he improved significantly in practice as the season wore on.

Still, it appears to be Newhouse’s job to lose in the wake of the team’s decision to release veteran Chad Clifton, the starting left tackle from 2000 through 2011. Clifton played just six regular-season games last season because of hamstring and back injuries and was benched for ineffective play in the team’s NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants, when he gave up a costly sack/fumble to Osi Umeniyora.

Losing Clifton, who had been durable except for his 2002 career-threatening hip injury (154 starts out of a possible 176 games), was a blow last season, and while Newhouse played well at times in his stead, he was still charged with nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and a whopping 41 pressures by ProFootballFocus.com.

“I expect another increase in his production. From Year 1 to Year 2, he was a different guy,” Campen said of Newhouse, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie after making the 53-man roster out of camp. “You didn’t see it because he didn’t play in Year 1, but he was working the (scout) teams, and I expect him to make that next jump. He’s a very talented kid that’s smart and rarely makes the same mistake twice. Now, he has a library against opponents, division opponents – playing against the Jared Allens and the Julius Peppers and those guys to back up what we’re saying will only help him.”

The other position at issue is center, where Pro Bowler Scott Wells was allowed to walk in the prime of his career, signing as a free agent with St. Louis. He’s been replaced by another veteran Pro Bowl player who’ll wear No. 63 – 37-year-old Jeff Saturday, who’ll play between arguably the best young guard tandem in the NFC, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.

“Has a beard, too,” Clements said, pointing out another similarity between Saturday and Wells. “We feel very good about adding Jeff. Scott was a very good player for us and it’s the nature of the game that sometimes guys leave. We had to plug a hole there, and we feel very good about having Jeff. So you plug in Jeff, who has a lot of experience. T.J. had a great year last year, Josh battled some injuries but he’s an outstanding player, and then Bulaga is an outstanding player as well. Hopefully we can just keep getting better.”

Bulaga made a colossal jump from his rookie year to last year. As a rookie, he gave up 13 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 33 pressures according to ProFootballFocus.com; last season, he was charged with one sack, two quarterback hits and 21 pressures.

“His growth from the end of the Pittsburgh game, being the youngest player ever to start a Super Bowl, to what he was this past year, it’s impressive. Going forward for him, it’s the old term, ‘The sky’s the limit.’ Or whatever you want to use,” Campen said. “I expect him to be dominant. Dominant.”

Sitton battled a knee injury that snapped a 48-game starting streak and caused him to miss a pair of games last season. Now fully healthy, his coaches believe he’ll be a Pro Bowl-caliber player again.

“I think Josh will be back to being the guy we’re accustomed to,” Campen said.

Lang, entering a contract year, could be auditioning for a big payday elsewhere if the Packers opt to save their financial resources for other impending free agents.

“He’s a good guard right now, and I expect him to be a very good guard,” Campen said. “He’s taking his job more seriously, he’ll be the first to admit that. The first couple years, it was, ‘Hey, I’m in the NFL! Woo-hoo!’ And the light’s gone on now. He’s a guy who, he’s smarter than hell, which makes it really nice for Saturday coming here, to have him and Josh. Those two don’t make many mistakes.”
 

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