GREEN BAY—A year ago at this time, Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton had been moved from right tackle and left guard to left tackle and left guard. It was Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s signature strategy for improving quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ pass protection, but before the preseason even began, Bulaga was gone for the year with a knee injury and his replacement was a rookie fourth-round draft pick, David Bakhtiari.
What was seen as a dangerously weak tackle position at the start of last season, is now one of the Packers’ greatest strengths heading into the 2014 training camp. Bakhtiari turned in one of the league’s best rookie performances, Bulaga is recovered from his knee injury, Don Barclay was the starter at right tackle in all but two games last season, and former first-round pick Derek Sherrod is sending signals he’s ready to join the competition.
“We have a lot of guys who feel like they have something to prove,” McCarthy said of players returning from injury. “A healthy football team is a good football team. History will show that.”
Bulaga has missed most of the past two seasons due to hip and knee injuries that dealt blows to a blossoming career. He had made the move to the premier left tackle position for 2013 when he was lost for the season on “Family Night.” That opened the door for Bakhtiari, who appears to have taken the job for good.
“David has established himself as a left tackle,” McCarthy said of Bakhtiari, who’s added bulk and strength for year two of his career.
So, with Bulaga back at right tackle, where does that leave Barclay?
“Donnie Barclay, to me, is a starting football player. We have to make sure we have as much competition as we can. Donnie has the ability to play all five positions on the offensive line,” McCarthy said.
Sherrod is practicing at his highest level since sustaining a broken leg in his rookie season, 2011. The injury required a two-year recovery.
“Derek Sherrod looks really good. This is as strong as I’ve ever seen him. It’s the padded work he needs,” McCarthy said.
Several players used Tuesday’s OTA practice to bring attention to themselves. Running back DuJuan Harris suffered a season-ending knee injury before last season began, but he flashed some of his old quickness on Tuesday.
“DuJuan Harris looks like he’s back to full strength. He’s competing to play. History will show you never have enough good football players. DuJuan has to fight for his opportunities,” McCarthy said.
Chris Harper’s name doesn’t appear often in the competition at wide receiver, but Harper caught the coach’s eye on Tuesday.
“(He’s) really improved. He ran a great post. That’s the kind of explosiveness he has,” McCarthy said.
Undrafted free agent tight end Colt Lyerla is another player fighting for his opportunities, but he was absent from practice, which is voluntary.
“I’m fully aware of where he is and I expect him back tomorrow,” McCarthy said of Lyerla.
Defensive line might be the place of greatest opportunity.
“The biggest thing with our defensive line is rotation. The ability to play the most defensive players possible is a focus for us. Because of injury, we did not hit our target last year,” McCarthy added. Additional coverage - June 3 OTA