When Ryan Grant sustained a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1 of last season, the Packers' running game evaporated into the ether.
For those reasons, offensive line coach James Campen has come under plenty of fire from fans and reporters alike.
So, in light of his unit's remarkable performance at Atlanta last week, with unproven backups playing both offensive tackle spots due to injuries, maybe Campen deserves some credit, for a change.
"I will say this, and I did tell Joe (Philbin, the offensive coordinator) afterwards, I said, ‘Coach, I don't know how they're going to grade on the plane home, but I tell you what, I'm very very proud of those kids," Campen said on Thursday. "I've never been as proud in awhile. And equally so I was proud of the two guards and the center helping them. No one panicked. But you do get proud for the group and the individuals that they performed well. We were able to move the ball and carry on and not make adjustments and carry out the game plan."
Which of the linemen, Newhouse or Sherrod, turned in the more noteworthy performance is debatable.
Newhouse was a three-time all-conference left tackle at TCU, earning some All-American honors as a senior. During a so-so training camp as a rookie fifth-round pick last year, it was evident that Newhouse — not surprisingly — looked more at home at left tackle. He had a terrific training camp this summer, again looking more comfortable at left tackle but greatly improved elsewhere, too. He clearly outplayed this year's first-round pick, Sherrod, to be the team's No. 3 tackle. So, when Bryan Bulaga exited with a knee sprain at Chicago in Week 3, Newhouse was the obvious replacement.
"He worked tremendously hard," Campen said. "In training camp, I think you could see that. We saw it and I know that some of you all were writing about, ‘Boy, it looks like this kid's done a good job.' He took the offseason seriously. He worked his tail off. He did an outstanding job when he was in Dallas. He lowered his body fat, got stronger. He's a very bright kid. He doesn't make mental errors. He dedicated himself to his body during the offseason and it paid off for him."
While Newhouse allowed a pair of sacks to Denver's stud rookie, Von Miller, he acquitted himself well at right tackle. Any comfort level at right tackle, however, went out the window when Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton sustained a serious hamstring early in the Atlanta game. With barely any work at the position during the week, Newhouse moved to left tackle. He looked as natural there as he did in college, guilty of one quarterback hit and an additional pressure on 44 total pass plays.
"To be able to flip if after you've been working all week on one side, that's a tribute to him and his preparation," Campen said. "It doesn't matter if you're a practice squad kid or a starter, they all take the same tests on Saturday, they all get graded. And they do a very good job of that. They don't miss many on their tests."
Maybe the bigger surprise – his first-round pedigree notwithstanding – was Sherrod. The former Mississippi State All-American was drafted to eventually replace Clifton but spent half of training camp battling T.J. Lang for the vacant spot at left guard. Sherrod wound up struggling at both spots and was inactive for the first three games before playing a handful of snaps for Clifton in the Week 4 romp against Denver.
"Part of the up-and-down preseason is probably our constant shuffle that we're famous for around here, and I think he's gotten his feet underneath him a little bit," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's starting to feel more comfortable playing outside. I don't know if we were surprised. We were pleased with his competitive nature he played with. There's some good shots of him getting very good separation in pass protection, using the length that he has to his advantage. I thought he was off to a good start. He was far from perfect but he was competitive and he held his own out there."
With the season under way, Sherrod began taking snaps at right tackle. It was a prescient move considering what happened against Atlanta. Sherrod, a National Football Foundation scholar-athlete as a senior and a finalist for the academic version of the Heisman Trophy, didn't sulk about his lack of playing time.
"You always use the phrase: ‘You're one snap away from being a starter,'" Philbin said. "You have to prepare that way, but I think human nature sometimes, you dress for an X amount of games and you don't get in there, you can kind of lull yourself to sleep. You have to stay involved in the game mentally. You've got to be alert when the guys come over to the sidelines, looking at the pictures, making any blocking scheme adjustments that you need to make."
While the coaches were confident that Newhouse and Sherrod could do the job – so much so that the only adjustments to the game plan were minor – confidence based on potential and practice and confidence based on production are two different things.
"That's a very good point," Campen said. "You don't know until they're in and there are live rounds being fired at them. That's just confirmation because I was very confident in (their) ability."
Right guard Josh Sitton, who's played alongside Bulaga, Newhouse and Sherrod in the space of three weeks, was impressed that the offense has kept humming despite the revolving door at right tackle.
"It speaks to what type of guys they are," Sitton said. "Those are the type of guys that Ted (Thompson) and the guys upstairs bring in. They're guys that have a lot of confidence, guys that have character and aren't going to be scared of that kind of situation. It speaks to what kind of guys they are. It's easy to go out there and be scared and go out there and just completely screw up. That's not what they did. They came in and played well."
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.