Recent Packers training camps have focused a spotlight on one competition for a starting spot on the offensive line.
In 2009, it was at center. The past two years, it was at left guard. In 2012, … well, there doesn’t appear to be one, but don’t mistake that for a lack of competition overall throughout the position group.
Just because the starting five seems fully known at this point – with veteran newcomer Jeff Saturday at center, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang at right and left guard, and Bryan Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse at right and left tackle – doesn’t mean this camp won’t be competitive.
The Packers discovered the need for quality backups, as Newhouse filled in first for Bulaga at right tackle and then for Chad Clifton at left tackle due to injuries. Evan Dietrich-Smith was needed at both guard positions because of injury shuffling, as well.
Rounding out the depth chart with starting-caliber quality will be a major priority for the Packers on the offensive line, and there are a slew of intriguing prospects.
At the top of the list is 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, who can’t be counted out as the potential starting left tackle this season, but it may be difficult for him to unseat Newhouse during training camp.
Sherrod is coming back from a surgically repaired broken leg sustained in Week 15 last season in Kansas City, and he sat out all of the OTAs and minicamp as he rehabbed. That makes two straight offseason programs missed by Sherrod, following the lockout in 2011, while Newhouse started 13 games last season and was the No. 1 left tackle all spring.
Others to keep an eye on for depth at tackle include journeyman Herb Taylor, who could be entering the make-or-break training camp of his three-year career, and rookie Andrew Datko, who needs his troublesome shoulder to stay healthy. If it does, he could prove to be a steal in the seventh round out of Florida State.
Undrafted rookies Shea Allard from Delaware and Mike McCabe from Holy Cross were also added to the mix at tackle this year. They’re joined in the undrafted rookie group by three guards – Don Barclay (West Virginia), Jaymes Brooks (Virginia Tech) and Grant Cook (Arkansas) – plus center Tommie Draheim (San Diego State).
Brooks missed OTAs and minicamp due to injury, while Draheim is converting from left tackle to center, his high school position.
The versatile Dietrich-Smith is currently the top backup at both guard spots as well as probably center, where the Packers are looking for a long-term prospect to take over at some point for Saturday.
In addition to Draheim, Sampson Genus is another candidate at center after spending all of his rookie year on the practice squad.