From 1 to 89: Battle at R. Tackle

As we reach the 20s in our fifth annual player rankings, it's Marshall Newhouse vs. Don Barclay at right tackle. Plus, a vote of confidence for M.D. Jennings and the exciting possibilities with Johnathan Franklin (on third down) and (a healthy) DuJuan Harris.

As we've done in past years, we're counting down the Green Bay Packers' roster, from No. 89 to No. 1.

These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players are ranked on their importance to the team. Skill, a player's position, the depth of his position group, the odds he contributes, salary and draft history all play a part in how a player is ranked. More than the ranking itself, hopefully you will learn a little something about each of the 89 players in the process.

No. 25: Man on the move

Give credit to Marshall Newhouse. As a fifth-round pick, Newhouse was a rarity as a starting left tackle. Based on Ourlads.com's projected depth charts for 2013, 20 of the starting left tackles will be first-round picks, followed by seven in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth and two college free agents.

Right tackle is a bit less top heavy. Ten of the projected starters will be first-round picks, followed by seven in the second, two in the third, two in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth, three in the seventh and five college free agents.

Newhouse, however, simply wasn't good enough at left tackle. Even though the offense scored almost 1,000 points over the past two seasons, Newhouse's play at left tackle was a major reason why coach Mike McCarthy opted for his major line shakeup. Of the 52 offensive tackles who played 50 percent of their teams' snaps last season, Newhouse ranked 32nd in pass blocking, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That was an improvement over 2011, when he was 57th out of 58, but not good enough when accompanied by his poor run blocking.

"You're kind of taken aback," Newhouse said. "But I looked inward and acknowledged my role in them having to make the decision but also knowing that I can play football and knowing that I had a lot of success at the same time. My only reaction, just the way I was raised (as) a coach's son was just to work harder and kind of fall in line with my role and become a better football player, and I feel like I'm doing that."

Newhouse has taken the demotion as a challenge and intends to become "a strength of the offensive line." Can he do it? Will Newhouse take another step forward? Will the lesser pass rushers he'll see at right tackle allow him to succeed? Newhouse could wind up starting. He also could wind up being released; by reaching playing time incentives, Newhouse saw his base pay go from $575,000 to $1.323 million.

No. 26: And his challenger

By our count during the five offseason practices open to reporters, Don Barclay took exactly one snap as the No. 1 right tackle. He might wind up taking the first snap of the regular season, however, depending on the ultimate direction of the offense.

If the Packers are serious about becoming a better running team, as would appear to be the case based on other personnel decisions during the offseason, then the 2012 college free agent might be the best option at right tackle.

With Barclay in the lineup for six starts and most of a seventh game, the Packers averaged 110 rushing yards compared to 100 yards in the other 11 games. Their 152 rushing yards against Minnesota was their second-best total of the year and their 140 against Detroit was their fourth-best. Ten of their 12 rushing touchdowns came with Barclay in the lineup, and the run game produced at least 113 yards in his first four outings.

"Don did a good job playing football, especially for the preparation that he had to get ready, to play down the stretch run, the most important part of our season," McCarthy said. "It is important we make sure to give Don an opportunity to compete for a job. He can play right tackle, he can play right guard. He's doing well. Let's face it, the true look we'll get at Don will be in training camp when we put pads on and the competition picks up. Don's a very tough, smart, versatile player and you like to see that in your young guys."

No. 27: Doctor in the house

The Packers not only didn't tap into a deep safety class in this year's draft, but the only addition to the group was a Division II cornerback. M.D. Jennings didn't take it as such, but that had to be some measure of the Packers' happiness with the 2011 college free agent's progress in 2012.

Jennings played 572 snaps in the regular season. He got benched in the opener against San Francisco and barely played the next three weeks before replacing Jerron McMillian at safety when Charles Woodson moved from safety to corner in nickel and dime. After Woodson's broken collarbone, Jennings became an even bigger cog of the defense.

At 6-foot and 195 pounds, he simply isn't big enough to be much of an asset as an in-the-box run defender. Thus, the Packers have had to deviate to some extent from their preferred approach of using their safeties interchangeably. In coverage, Jennings is fast and covers a lot of ground. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Jennings ranked second in the league among safeties in coverage snaps per reception allowed and was first in yards allowed per coverage snap.

Now, the Packers need more big-play production. Jennings had one interception last season, a pick-six at Detroit.

"Pad level is one of the big things with him," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "He's a taller safety and taller guys have to work a little harder at staying lower. His confidence level should be pretty high. He did some good things last year. We had last-minute failures, if you will, and the plays that we knocked down, broken up, we'd like to turn those plays into interceptions."

No. 28: Third-down back?

For the Packers, the role of third-down back is about pass protection, first and foremost. Then, it's about being a playmaker as a checkdown and screen threat.

For fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin to replace John Kuhn in that role, he'll have to show he can handle the mental and physical aspects of protecting former Super Bowl and NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Franklin was a standout during the pass-protection drills at the Senior Bowl.

"He came in and is an absolute meat-and-potatoes (player), very coachable, solid as a rock on and off the field," Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage told Packer Report after the draft. "He can not only run the ball between the tackles but he can pass protect, he can catch the ball."

There were some positive signs during offseason practices. While full contact is not allowed and collisions aren't nearly at full speed, Franklin did pick up an unblocked Johnny Jolly and a blitzing Mike Neal.

If Franklin becomes a trustworthy pass protector, he'll then add an element to the passing game. In two seasons as the full-time third-down back, John Kuhn had back-to-back seasons of 15 catches, giving him 30 receptions for 225 yards. That's a respectable 7.5-yard average, though it's inflated greatly by a 32-yard gain when the Giants blew coverage last season.

Compare that to Brandon Jackson, who had 94 catches for 714 yards from 2008 through 2010, an average of 31.3 receptions and 7.6 yards per reception. Unlike Kuhn, Jackson was somebody defenses had to account for, and they'd have to do the same with Franklin.

No. 29: Dynamite comes in ...

Don't forget about DuJuan Harris in the backfield.

A midseason addition the practice squad, Harris was too good on Clark Hinkle Field to be kept off of Lambeau Field. Earning a late-season promotion, Harris carried 34 times for 157 yards in the regular season and added 28 rushes for 100 yards in the playoffs. He was arguably the Packers' best offensive player in the playoff loss at San Francisco, with his 4.8-yard average and 18-yard touchdown, but inexplicably got the ball just 11 times even while the game didn't get out of hand until the second half.

Including playoff games, Harris averaged 4.15 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. All the other running backs combined averaged 3.38 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns.

"He's fearless," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "He runs quickly through the hole and there's not a lot of dodging going on. He showed that the first carry he got out here when we tossed him the ball against Detroit and he ran over the safety. I think he's got a good mix of speed and toughness and the ability to run through arm tackles."

Harris didn't participate in offseason practices and needed surgery to remove a large cyst next to his lung. The spin is the improved lung capacity should make Harris even more explosive than he was in 2012.


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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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