With Line, Packers Lean Toward Left Tackles

Most of the Packers' linemen played left tackle in college, including starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left guard T.J. Lang. "You've got a guy that's already been in the fire and understands the importance of protection," offensive line coach James Campen said.

Bryan Bulaga, a former first-round draft pick and top-tier NFL starter, has something in common with Evan Dietrich-Smith, a former undrafted free agent and NFL backup.

Both played left tackle in college before finding a home elsewhere with the Green Bay Packers.

They're not alone. Of the Packers' 17 offensive linemen, 13 of them played left tackle in college.

"Maybe it's coincidence or whatever, but just the name left tackle, back side, blind side of the quarterback, one thing you get is you get players that are on the stress point," offensive line coach James Campen told Packer Report on Tuesday. "Moving them around is not that big of a deal. Sure it is with footwork and mechanics in going from a left-hand stance to a right-hand and so forth, but you've got a guy that's already been in the fire and understands the importance of protection. If you move him over to right tackle or right guard, his urgency level is already embedded in his head. There's an advantage to that."

Of the Packers' five starters, left tackle Marshall Newhouse, left guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bulaga played left tackle in college. Of the five backups who were on the roster last year, Dietrich-Smith, Ray Dominguez, Derek Sherrod and Herbert Taylor were collegiate left tackles.

While the Packers have backed off their reliance on small, athletic blockers, they still put a high value on quickness. That's a major reason why they've consistently drafted or signed college left tackles, because those blockers need quick feet to survive on the edge against most defenses' top pass rushers.

Not all of those linemen, however, have what it takes to play offensive tackle in the NFL. Maybe they aren't tall enough or long enough. Maybe they aren't quite quick enough.

"You're looking for a guy that can bend and has pad level in the box," Campen said. "If he's a guy that can bend, typically those guys are shorter, heavier and have power and are able to create some power movement in the run game and also be able to hold the point. If he can do that, you say, ‘Wow, maybe that guy can play guard.' Some tackles can't; they don't function well down there."

At Iowa, Bulaga started at left guard as a true freshman before moving to left tackle for his first two seasons. He was drafted to be Chad Clifton's successor at left tackle, but when right tackle Mark Tauscher was lost for the season, Bulaga made a career-changing switch.

"Initially, it was a little bit of an adjustment, but once I got the footwork down, it wasn't too big of a deal," Bulaga said. "It took me probably five or six weeks until I started feeling really comfortable with it."

At Idaho State, Dietrich-Smith started 10 games at left guard as a freshman, five games at left guard, five at right tackle and one as a blocking tight end as a sophomore before injuries forced him to move to left tackle as a junior. He stayed there as a senior, when he was named the team's offensive MVP.

Now, he's entering his second season as the Packers' top interior reserve.

"You definitely have to be able to move your feet in this offense or you're not going to make it too far," he said.

T.J. Lang, a fourth-round pick in 2009 who started at both tackle slots as a rookie, won the starting job at left guard last season. If quick feet are valued at tackle, quick thinking is valued at guard. It might be only one step down the line of scrimmage but it's a totally different game.

"When you're playing guard, you're working mostly with the center and the other guard — passing off games with the inside guys," Lang said. "Stuff happens a lot faster inside. At tackle, you're more in space and you have time to read the defense and read the pass rusher that's across from you. At tackle, you're going against speedy, athletic guys; at guard, you're going against bigger, heavy-set, stronger guys. It's something you've got to adapt to — the different style of player you're going against and getting used to playing in a tighter window."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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