Numbers-wise, it’s a little startling and perhaps risky to see only seven offensive linemen on the Packers’ 53-man roster, but General Manager Ted Thompson suggested on Saturday that numbers very well could change.
“That’s where we are now, so we’ll see,” Thompson told reporters in addressing the roster after Friday’s cutdown. “There’s obviously a certain comfort level that we normally do (things) differently than that. But that’s where we are now.”
In addition to the starting five, the only backups the Packers kept were veteran center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith and guard/tackle Don Barclay (pictured), an undrafted rookie from West Virginia. Last year, the Packers began the season with eight offensive linemen, and they’ve often had nine or 10 on the roster in the past.
Ideally, an eighth lineman this year would have been 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, but the tackle was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list to buy him more time to recover from his surgically repaired broken leg. Sherrod sustained the injury last December and has not returned to the practice field. On reserve/PUP, he is out for at least the first six weeks of the season.
“It’s a guessing game, but in the end we felt like it was best for Derek and best for the Packers long term to give him a little bit more time,” Thompson said. “And this ensures that I don’t get an itchy trigger finger and put him out there too fast.”
It also is no doubt prompting Thompson to explore signing a veteran free agent who has been released by another team. The veteran backup he signed during camp, Reggie Wells, was released.
Dietrich-Smith could step in at center or at either guard spot, as he has done in the past, but it could be a stretch to say Barclay is ready should an emergency arise. Barclay was the lone survivor from a fairly large group of rookie offensive linemen, as he showed steady improvement throughout training camp. He played both guard and tackle and had settled in as the right tackle on the No. 2 offensive line for the final preseason game.
Of the 10 rookies on the 53-man roster, Barclay is one of four undrafted ones. Outside linebacker Dezman Moses from Tulane put himself in position to make the team with a strong spring and was competing more for playing time during camp, with a roster spot seemingly sewn up.
Safety Sean Richardson from Vanderbilt and receiver Jarrett Boykin from Virginia Tech both pulled upsets in beating out practice-squad holdovers for their spots. Anthony Levine, who had spent time on the practice squad the last two years, was in the hunt at safety, but Thompson referred to Richardson as a player with “a lot of upside.”
Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel were the potential sixth receivers getting all the attention before camp began, but Boykin climbed past them despite starting as a tryout player during the rookie orientation weekend.
“I think he was one of those guys that improved all through the summer, and that improvement accelerated over the course of the last several weeks,” Thompson said. “He was one of those guys we felt earned a spot.”
The other six rookies to make it were Thompson’s first six draft picks, all defensive players. Based on observations from training camp, five of the six – outside linebacker Nick Perry, linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jerron McMillian – appear slated for regular roles on defense, either as starters or in sub packages.
They’ve added considerable depth to a defense that was obviously thin last year in finishing last in the league in yards allowed. How much they can help turn the unit’s fortunes around will be one of the major storylines of 2012.
“It’s like I said all along, those guys are not going to come in and be saviors,” Thompson said. “They’re going to come in and help the group out.” Related link