DEPTH CHART: 2013
LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG T.J. Lang, RT Don Barclay, OT Marshall Newhouse, OT Derek Sherrod, G/C J.C. Tretter and G Lane Taylor. (OT Bryan Bulaga and G/C Greg Van Roten were on injured reserve; G Andrew Tiller, C Garth Gerhart and OT Aaron Adams finished the year on the practice squad.)
UNDER CONTRACT: 2014
Bakhtiari, Sitton, Lang, Barclay, Bulaga, Sherrod, Tretter, Taylor, Van Roten. (Adams, Gerhart, Tiller and OT Jeremy Vujnovich were signed to futures contracts after the season).
FREE AGENTS: 2014
Dietrich-Smith and Newhouse.
The grade: B. Entering last offseason, there were two reactions to the Packers' unorthodox left-to-right, right-to-left revamp of the offensive line. One, it was akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. Or two, it was a truly inspired idea by coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen.
Turns out, it was an inspired plan by the coaches — even with the key player to that move, Bulaga, missing the season with a torn ACL.
The Packers ranked 28th in sack rate at 9.14 percent in 2012. In 2013, the Packers improved to 21st at 7.89 percent. According to ProFootballFocus.com's pass-blocking efficiency metric, which combines sacks, hits and hurries into total pressures and is divided by passing plays, the Packers ranked 13th in 2012 but improved to fourth in 2013.
The run game, of course, was leaps-and-bounds better. Green Bay averaged 4.7 yards per carry, good for fourth in the league. The Packers averaged 3.9 per carry in 2011 and 2012 and 3.8 in 2010. To be sure, Eddie Lacy deserves a lot of the credit, but he certainly didn't do it on his own.
The good: The Packers might have the best interior linemen in the league with All-Pro left guard Sitton, underrated right guard Lang and free agent-to-be center Dietrich Smith.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Sitton was the NFL's best pass-blocking guard and Lang ranked 11th. Only Cincinnati had both of its guards ranked in the top 11. Dietrich-Smith, meanwhile, tied for seventh among guards. Only Green Bay and New Orleans had its guards and center all rank in the top 15 at their positions in pass protection. When the Packers absolutely had to protect Aaron Rodgers in the season finale against Chicago, the line formed a cocoon around its quarterback.
An offseason emphasis on the run game paid immediate dividends on both sides of the ball. While the defense fell apart, the offense ran the ball well almost every week. According to the league's media stats site, the Packers averaged 5.63 yards per carry around left end (ninth in league), 5.85 off left tackle (second), 5.58 off left guard (third) and 5.01 behind center (sixth). Last year, Green Bay averaged 4.49 around left end (26th), 2.34 off left tackle (32nd), 3.89 off left guard (15th) and 4.40 behind center (ninth).
The bad: Despite the improved pass protection, a sack against Chicago resulted in Rodgers' broken collarbone.
In the playoff game, according to ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers yielded pressure on 18 passing plays. The only game worse was the overtime, five-period tie against Minnesota (21). The Packers never allowed more than 15 total pressures in any other game.
The surprise: If the scouts believed Bakhtiari could play left tackle, he would have gone much earlier than the fourth round of April's draft. Instead, one scout after another projected Bakhtiari as a guard. Maybe he could play right tackle in a pinch. One even thought he'd make a good center. Either way, left tackle wasn't supposed to be in the cards. But when Bulaga went down, Bakhtiari jumped in and played well against a gauntlet of premier pass rushers. While he had some rough patches, he also had a seven-game stretch without allowing a sack.
The coach says: "It's encouraging when most of the guys started every game; Donny missed two starts. There were a few injuries and a little movement this year, so that was a little unusual from the past. I think that they had an opportunity to become more cohesive as a unit and I think, off the hoof, they performed better than they have in years past," — OL coach James Campen
There are two questions moving forward. First, where do Bulaga and Sherrod fit in and does Bakhtiari remain at left tackle? The depth is a good problem to have. Bakhtiari played well as a rookie and should benefit from an offseason in the weight room, and Bulaga has played well in the past. The team has no idea about Sherrod, who really hasn't played since breaking his leg late in his rookie season of 2011. At least he practiced for half the season. He should be ready to challenge for playing time in 2014.
Second, will the Packers retain Dietrich-Smith? Other than Sam Shields, he's probably No. 2 on their list of priorities. It's not as if there's another ready-to-roll center on the roster, with Tretter's season spoiled by a broken ankle. Dietrich-Smith will turn 28 on July 19 and just completed his first season as a starter. There's a lot of upside and the free-agent class at center isn't great beyond Cleveland's Alex Mack. If the Packers want him, will they open their wallets if another team makes another run at him?
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.