McCarthy giving offensive line a flip-flop makeover
By Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – The season opener is four months away and a lot can happen between now and then, but the Green Bay Packers are starting the off-season with some major changes on their offensive line.
The most noteworthy is that right tackle Bryan Bulaga is moving to the left side to be quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side protector, replacing last year’s starter Marshall Newhouse.
In addition, the coaches have flipped guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, moving Lang from left to right and Sitton from right to left. Newhouse, 2012 undrafted free agent Don Barclay and 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod will all have a shot to start at right tackle.
Initially, multiple sources detailed the move, and later after an interview request, coach Mike McCarthy confirmed it and agreed to discuss it.
“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 said. “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.”
The moves were timed with the advancement of the off-season program into Phase II, which is the first opportunity for the players to begin working with position coaches on the field. McCarthy could have eased the players into new roles but this is a commitment to solidify the left side and protect a quarterback who just signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension.
Last year, McCarthy tried to make it work at left tackle without moving Bulaga, but Sherrod suffered a leg fracture from which he still hasn’t returned and Newhouse was a big disappointment after showing some promise in ’11.
Bulaga, a first-round pick in 2010, played left tackle at Iowa, but he eventually settled in at right tackle, where he was needed when it was clear longtime starter Mark Tauscher was finished. McCarthy could have moved Bulaga to the left side last year, but he decided to roll the dice with Newhouse.
Even with Bulaga, 24, starting 33 regular-season games on the right and none on the left, McCarthy said he wasn’t worried about the transition. Newhouse needed to be replaced after allowing a team-high 11 sacks last year and had Bulaga not landed on injured reserve due to a small fracture in his hip socket suffered in Week 9, he might have been moved there at some point.
Scouts questioned whether Bulaga’s 33¼-inch arms were too short to play left tackle in the NFL, but he has insisted those measurements mean nothing and with the exception of a bad spell early last year and a few blips at other times, he has done well against some very good pass rushers on the right side.
McCarthy had no hesitation in making the move.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have full confidence in Bryan,” McCarthy said. “He’s been here everyday (in the off-season) and so I’ve seen him develop physically in all areas of his game. He’s a very mature player.”
Sitton, 26, has been with Bulaga on the right side every step of the way and besides being the unit’s best player he has been the most durable, too, missing just two games in the last four seasons.
McCarthy found out how critical the position was when Lang had to play with a bad elbow most of the year and was forced to move to right tackle for a few games after Bulaga was lost.
As for moving to the left side, Sitton has played there before and the fact he has been so durable allows McCarthy some piece of mind in protecting Rodgers’ blind side. Sitton played through a bad knee in 2011 but was healthy all last year and had probably the best season of his career.
He said he studied Sitton’s game and decided he was a good fit on the left.
“I even looked at the way Josh played left guard (at the) Pro Bowl,” McCarthy said. “There was a lot of information that went into this decision.”
Moving the two men to the left side won’t require a long transition period in terms of the way they work together. The two veterans should be able to handle all the stunts, games and blitzes teams have thrown on Rodgers’ blind side.
McCarthy agreed that Lang is probably better suited for right guard, at least in the sense of a traditional offense in which a large, powerful man can help the run game. The Packers don’t traditionally run to the strong side more than any other, but McCarthy likes Lang in that position.
“T.J. just needs to get healthy,” McCarthy said. “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.”
As for right tackle, McCarthy said he would allow Newhouse and Barclay to compete for the time being and then hope that Sherrod gets cleared after undergoing a second surgery after the season.
He will make a decision on where to play draft picks David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter after they arrive for rookie orientation next week.
“We’ll do the best thing for the offensive line,” McCarthy said. “After we get those young guys in and do a personnel evaluation, we’ll decide how we’re going to go forward.”
The one thing that’s indisputable is it won’t be with the same lineup as in 2012.
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