This is the fourth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series continues with the offensive line.
GREEN BAY – Roster spots might be hard to come by on the Packers’ offensive line in 2016.
A quick glance at the landscape shows why. Starters Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari at tackle, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang at guard, and Corey Linsley at center hold five spots. Super-sub JC Tretter is the sixth man, while the Packers re-signed backup and restricted free agent guard Lane Taylor and drafted tackle Jason Spriggs in the second round.
Barring injury issues, it’s hard to imagine those eight not being on the 53-man roster when the regular season begins. The Packers have kept as many as 10 linemen before, but often less. No matter the final number, every roster spot must be earned, and there are numerous prospects fighting for jobs.
Don Barclay is another year removed from his ACL injury and was looking more like his old self this offseason. Josh Walker made the roster last year after spending 2014 on the practice squad. Kyle Murphy was drafted in the sixth round out of Stanford. All three of them can potentially back up at guard or tackle.
Meanwhile, practice-squad holdover and guard Matt Rotheram was taking some reps at center in his second offseason, and three undrafted rookies were added to the mix as well. Tackle Josh James is from Carroll (Mont.), guard Lucas Patrick is from Duke and center Jacob Flores comes from Dartmouth.
May the best man, or men, win, and it’s a good bet the top runners-up will be brought back on the practice squad if they clear waivers. The only player mentioned in the previous two paragraphs who is not practice-squad eligible is Barclay.
As for the starters, if the group has one wish for 2016, it’s probably to stay healthy.
After all, a run of good health in 2014 – when the starting five was together for 17 of 18 total games (including playoffs) and the only missed start belonged to Bulaga early in Week 2 – helped get the Packers to the brink of the Super Bowl.
The worm turned last year, though, as the top quintet was together for only eight of 18 contests, and the group missed a collective 11 starts.
While Lang noted in the offseason that 2014 was probably the anomaly and 2015 more of the norm, the Packers are hoping they have a little more luck on their side this year.
The good news is the injury trouble last year handed valuable starting experience to Tretter and Taylor. Tretter’s ability to fill in virtually anywhere along the line is a valuable commodity the Packers know they can rely on, even if they hope to not need it as much this time around.
The health concerns didn’t end when last season did, and the starters were using this past offseason to heal up.
Lang and Linsley both sat out all of OTAs to recover from injuries, but they’re expected to be ready for training camp. Bakhtiari’s difficult ankle injury from late last year requires maintenance but hasn’t held him back.
Sitton, named to his third Pro Bowl last season, lost some weight after playing through back and toe injuries in recent years but hasn’t missed a start since 2011. Bulaga and the other three might all be on the Pro Bowl voting radar soon.
The group is tough, tight and talented. Together, week after week in 2016, would complete the picture.
Countdown to Camp series
QB: It’s Hundley’s time to shine
RB: Spotlight remains on Lacy
WR/TE: No. 3 receiver the competition to watch