The return of left tackle Chad Clifton last Sunday, after missing 10 games with hamstring and back injuries, and the expected return of right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who has missed the last two games with a sprain around the kneecap, adds much-needed depth to the Packers' line with Marshall Newhouse moving to a backup role.
But nothing, really, is set in stone.
"I don't think we're as locked in as they may feel just with a locked-in five," coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "We'd like to be that way, and Chad is a key component of that, but Marshall's played very well, so we feel good about that. Evan's (Dietrich-Smith) played good football for us, too. So we're going to do whatever it takes to win the game."
Newhouse, a second-year pro, filled in as the starting left tackle (for 10 games) and the starting right tackle (for three games) during a 13-game stretch when Clifton and Bulaga were struck with injuries. Though the 12-year veteran Clifton, more experienced with a strong playoff run under his belt a year ago, will start the postseason as the starter, he might be on a short leash.
"We're going to give Chad every opportunity to make sure that he's ready to be the guy at left tackle," said McCarthy, "but there's no blink or no hesitation as far as the ability to play Marshall in this next game."
McCarthy has set some precedent for this. In the second game of the 2010 season against the Bills, he pulled Clifton for poor play, in part due to nagging knee injuries. Bulaga took his place, though Clifton returned to the starting lineup the next game.
In his return this season, Clifton played just 25 snaps in the Packers' regular-season finale against the Lions. Newhouse played the entire game, moving from right tackle to left tackle when Clifton left the game in the second quarter.
Newhouse, who did not play in a game during his rookie season, played more snaps than any tackle on the Packers' roster this season. When asked Wednesday if he had earned the right to start in the playoffs he said, "I think I've earned the right to be on this team and judging by training camp until now, I'm happy where I'm at. And the bottom line is as the team goes, the rest of us go. So if we're winning, there's not a problem."
The Packers have praised Newhouse for his play coming into a difficult situation. He has certainly played a part in keeping the Packers offense playing at a high level.
Some numbers, however, tell a different story — that Newhouse has been the weak link along the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus statistics, he has given up more sacks (eight), more quarterback hits (eight) and more quarterback pressures (39) than anyone on the team and has graded out as one of the worst tackles in the league. He also has been undisciplined at times with five false-start penalties.
Nonetheless, Newhouse has not been a disaster, which can sometimes be the case with inexperienced tackles. He played well enough to stay ahead of rookie first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod on the depth chart and survived against some of the top pass rushers in the league including the Vikings' Jared Allen, the Chiefs' Tamba Hali, and the Bears' Julius Peppers.
In the process, he gained some confidence.
"I learned that I'm capable of playing at this level and that there's always going to be a lot of things that don't go your way, but being able to bounce back and being able to keep performing and getting better is a big part of being successful out there," he said.
"I feel like I've played pretty solid. Being thrown in there, obviously I wanted to play better in certain games, but I feel pretty good considering the circumstances."
Newhouse had arguably his two best games and two worst games against the three playoff opponents vying to come to Lambeau for the divisional round. In games at Detroit (Nov. 24) and at Atlanta (Oct. 9), he graded out the best according to Pro Football Focus, and last week against the Lions (Jan. 1) and at the New York (Dec. 4) he graded out the worst.
Newhouse is preparing like he is the starter. He was splitting reps in practice Wednesday, so not much has changed other than heading into the first playoff game as a backup.
"Before Bryan went down, before Chad went down, I was preparing every day like I was the starter," said Newhouse. "And I think that helped me in the long run when I had to jump in there, so I don't see any reason to change."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org