Over the course of the last decade or so, the Green Bay Packers offensive line has been up and down but, aside from the injury-filled 2010 Super Bowl season, the last few years have been good.
I've spent a chunk of the last few weeks looking over the offensive line play from last season, and today, am going to talk about my thoughts on what I saw. Let's remember a few things first.
First, you have to admit to the limitations of film examination for the offensive line. Really, film work across the board. You don't know all the plays, all the adjustments at the line. Especially when it comes to the offensive line, you have to be careful. What looks like a missed block can be a guy in perfect position victimized by a different guy's blown assignment.
Even All-22 doesn't help there.
Second, injuries count. Even though we can talk about how the team fared when people were dropping like Allied troops on D-Day, it's how you adjust when it happens.
In 2010, the team adjusted well because of depth. In 2012? Well, we'll look at it.
Before we start, here's a basic overview of how the roster stands right now.
LT: Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod
LG: TJ Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith
C: Jeff Saturday, Sampson Genus
RG: Josh Sitton, Ray Dominguez
RT: Bryan Bulaga, Andrew Datko
When Marshall Newhouse stepped in, the assumption was, he was a stopgap.
Instead, he took the job. The hope is he can continue the high level of play he showed through a good chunk of the season.
In looking at the overall play of the line, I liked what I saw of Newhouse, in part because he wasn't someone who caught my eye too much.
My opinion is, you probably shouldn't hear much about an offensive lineman in the broadcast. He also shouldn't catch your eye when you're watching other things.
Newhouse did that (or didn't do that). He didn't make egregious errors which made me flinch or double-take.
When I watched him closely, I liked what I saw and he got better as his snaps increased. Technique and instinct all seemed to be there.
Yes, he had some downright awful moments (he got hammered in Week 13 against the Giants, and ProFootballFocus mentioned Jason Pierre-Paul as abusing him). Overall, though, he played well, and I am convinced he will continue to progress this season.
If he can't I have complete faith in Sherrod. Like Newhouse, Sherrod started off rough, but was coming along (mostly at guard before he got hurt). I saw some humdinger mistakes from him, but liked the same thing I liked when I looked at his college tape.
I'd like to see Sherrod get a lot of work in training camp because the more snaps he gets, the more improved he will be both from an athletic and technical standpoint.
I like Sherrod quite a bit. The Packers have a pretty good offensive line across the board, but they need to find a way to get him on the field in the next few years.
It goes without saying then that the depth at left tackle is fine.
Newhouse/Sherrod are not the greatest left tackle combo ever, but they are solid and should be very effective at keeping Aaron Rodgers upright.
A while back, I wrote a piece which stated that TJ Lang was a player who, while good, wasn't someone they couldn't afford to lose. Mr. Lang caught wind of that and wasn't amused, though we were fine when I explained what I meant.
I also said that, after I re-watched the tape closely, if I felt it was warranted, I'd tell him I was wrong.
As I am a man of my word: TJ, I've done you wrong.
This is not to say he's irreplaceable. It is, however, to say that he should be a much higher priority than I gave him credit for.
The more closely I watched Lang, the more I liked what I saw.
I think there were two things which contributed to my earlier comment. First, the Packers allowed very little penetration and push in the middle, but I gave an inordinate amount of credit to Scott Wells and downgraded Lang and Josh Sitton too much. Second, the money it would probably take to keep Lang is likely to be lower than I thought, which makes him much more manageable cap-wise.
There are three huge free agents to worry about in the near future: Greg Jennings this year, Clay Matthews and BJ Raji next. I think it's a fair debate as to where the cash goes.
However, in relation to those potential deals, Lang's contract won't be much of a hurdle. Those contracts either happen or they don't.
And if they do, we all know how good Ted Thompson is at manipulating numbers and juggling space. If they want Lang and he wants to be there, then it will happen.
From a practical standpoint, Lang isn't perfect, but did solid work both in the run game and in pass protection. Did Wells help? Well, a good center will do that, as Jeff Saturday will this year.
But isolate him on film, and you watch a guy who is a monster in a run play and good blocking incoming defensive linemen on run plays.
A second year as a starter will tell the tale here, but in looking over my initial analysis, as well as his games last year, I see more than enough to feel confident in him.
Evan Dietrich-Smith would be a step back, obviously, but in a pinch, could fill in and keep things moving while Lang was down. A longer injury (the year for example) would worry me more than a short one, but overall, he's a good stop-gap.
The left side looks good. Both guard and tackle should be solid this year.
I like Jeff Saturday, and by all accounts, he was doing great in spring practices. He also sounds like a guy who has stepped right into a leadership role in the locker room.
That should limit the impact of losing Scott Wells, who played as well as anyone at the position last year.
The biggest concern is injury—at Saturday's age, he wears down faster and recovers slower. Luckily, he appears 100 percent and should stay that way all year.
Sampson Genus is a raw player who many thought was just a campo body in 2011, yet here he is behind Saturday. If Saturday goes down, I'd be a bit concerned but I've seen so little of Genus that i won't discount him completely.
I hope to hear some good things from training camp.
Josh Sitton is a guy who I love watching when he gets to the second level. He, Wells and Bryan Bulaga did some real damage at times last season during run plays.
Sitton has been outstanding for several years, and he was highly rated by ProFootballFocus.com in spring of 2011. He didn't have a big dropoff last season, save for the fact that he had some injury issues.
Sure, his play dropped, but he was definitely struggling in part due to his knee. At the start of the season, when healthy, he was dominating. At the end, when he was getting healthy, he was almost dominating.
He even did well against the Giants in the playoff loss.
If he can stay healthy, I have zero issue with him coming into this season.
Ray Dominguez is an adequate backup. Not fantastic, not bad and a guy with limited snaps.
Good starter in place here, but the depth is a bit shaky long term.
Bryan Bulaga is a stud. I don't need to watch film for that, do I?
Well, I did. The problem was that he hurt his knee in Week 3, and it certainly seemed to hamper him all year long. In fact, he missed a few games and left the Kansas City loss early.
We see the issue it causes for the line when he leaves, so hopefully, he stays healthy this season. When healthy, he is an outstanding tackle, and there was some talk he might kick to left tackle once Chad Clifton was released, but that seems to not be happening.
Not that we couldn't see a switch if Newhouse/Sherrod collapses.
Still, he's one of the best right tackles in the league, and as long as he's there, that will continue to be the case.
Andrew Datko is an intriguing player behind Bulaga, whose stock dipped when he was hurt and missed most of his senior year. Health is his big question mark, as he has the athleticism and strength to play tackle. He's had three shoulder injuries, though, so the rookie will have to try and avoid a fourth.
If he can stay healthy, many analysts think he was a steal. It's a big "if," though.
As you can see, the guard position on the right side looks secure. In fact, the whole right side looks rock solid.
This could be one of the most reliable offensive lines the Packers have seen in a very long time, if Newhouse/Sherrod do OK at left tackle and they can stay largely healthy. There is spotty depth, though what they have is versatile and can play in several places.
It looks good for the Packers heading into 2012, though. Very good.