This is the fourth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2017 draft. The series continues with the offensive line.
GREEN BAY – For the second straight year, the Packers will be replacing a Pro Bowl guard by Week 1 of the regular season.
This time, though, the search for the replacement is beginning now.
Josh Sitton’s sudden release at the end of training camp last summer threw Lane Taylor into the fray as Green Bay’s starting left guard, and the former undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State wasn’t fazed by the short notice or the magnitude of the job.
Taylor stepped in seamlessly, and with the Packers now using the entire offseason to replace right guard T.J. Lang following his free-agent departure to Detroit, there’s no reason to believe the next transition won’t be as smooth if not smoother.
Lang’s replacement very well could come from the draft, but it’s unlikely a rookie would be anointed the starter from Day 1, unless the Packers were to use a very high draft pick on him.
Sitton, Lang, left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley were all selected in the fourth round or later, so mining the third day of the draft for a candidate would be consistent with the Packers’ approach.
In any event, whoever is brought in at the end of the month will have to compete with veteran Don Barclay, 2016 sixth-round pick Kyle Murphy, and practice-squad holdover Lucas Patrick for the starting gig.
Last year’s second-round pick, Jason Spriggs, who started two games in place of an injured Lang last year, wouldn’t appear to be in the mix after Head Coach Mike McCarthy declared him a tackle this offseason. He projects as the top backup to Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who are coming off their best seasons in 2016 and are both under contract for multiple years yet.
Bakhtiari earned his first Pro Bowl trip in the first year of a contract extension signed last summer that pays him as a franchise left tackle. Many opinions internally supported Pro Bowl recognition for Bulaga as well after he started all 19 games. Perhaps he’ll get his due soon.
Replacing super-sub JC Tretter is another task for the unit after he left in free agency to become Cleveland’s starting center. Barclay could become that versatile interior substitute if he doesn’t win the right guard job. When called upon, he played much better in 2016 after a rough 2015 when he was coming off a season-ending knee injury. Murphy also was mentioned by McCarthy as possibly playing both guard and tackle this year.
Linsley is the unquestioned starting center now after sharing the job off-and-on with Tretter the past three years, depending on who was healthy. A former fifth-round pick from Ohio State, Linsley is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2017.
Along with Patrick, who spent the entire season on the practice squad after arriving as an undrafted rookie from Duke, the Packers’ other developmental prospects include center Jacob Flores, who was signed to the practice squad at midseason last year, and guard Justin McCray, signed last month.
Only once in 12 drafts has General Manager Ted Thompson not chosen an offensive lineman (2015), and eight times he has selected at least two. That makes additions to the offensive line as sure a bet as anything in this draft. The open starting spot may simply influence the specific position to be first targeted for the group.
QBs: Packers enter draft with two backups
RBs: Montgomery leads Packers' backfield into new era
WRs: Packers could add receiver early or late in draft