This is the fifth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2015 draft. The series continues with the offensive line.
GREEN BAY—It’s the best group Mike McCarthy has had up front in his tenure as the Packers’ head coach, and it’s coming back intact.
Its versatile, top reserves also return.
But don’t for a moment think the Packers won’t draft an offensive lineman – whether it be in the early, middle or late rounds – if one they like is available at the right time.
Quality big guys to pave the way for Eddie Lacy and protect Aaron Rodgers are simply too hard to find to pass up a good pick, and no matter how strong the unit, a team’s depth can be imperiled quickly.
General Manager Ted Thompson has done exceptionally well at building an offensive line through the draft. Three starters in left guard Josh Sitton, right guard T.J. Lang and left tackle David Bakhtiari were all drafted in the fourth round. Center Corey Linsley was a fifth-round pick.
Only right tackle Bryan Bulaga, re-signed just as free agency opened in March, was a first-rounder.
Coincidentally, all five starters were drafted in different years, proof that quality, cohesive units aren’t assembled overnight. That also speaks to the importance of picking the right guy whenever he’s there for the taking.
As for depth, nothing can be taken for granted, with last year an obvious example. The Packers appeared to be in enviable shape until top backup Don Barclay was lost for the season to a knee injury during training camp, and a couple of weeks later projected starting center JC Tretter also went down.
Circumstances changed in a hurry, and the Packers weathered the storm, with Linsley taking over for Tretter at center, and then Tretter actually playing in relief at tackle late in the season after Derek Sherrod had been released.
Barclay, who can play guard or tackle, has returned as a restricted free agent and again projects as a top reserve. Third-year pros Tretter and Lane Taylor are also back, along with Garth Gerhart, a former practice-squad center signed to the active roster last year for the first time.
In addition, the cupboard is stocked with developmental prospects that spent time on the practice squad last year in center Joe Madsen, guard Josh Walker and tackle Jeremy Vujnovich.
That’s a total of 11 offensive linemen on the current roster, and the Packers entered training camp last year with 15, so more are coming, either during the draft or shortly thereafter.
In his first 10 drafts as Packers GM, Thompson has selected 18 offensive linemen, drafting two or more in a year seven times. Of those 18, only four have never started a game for the Packers, and one of those is Tretter, who very well could at some point.
In other words, the Packers are continually bringing in reinforcements up front, and more often than not those reinforcements end up on the front line somewhere along the way.
That isn’t likely to change, even in a year McCarthy’s best starting unit is coming back for an encore.