Josh Sitton: General manager Ted Thompson has drafted 17 offensive linemen in his nine drafts. There have been more misses than hits, but Sitton has been a home run. In each of his four seasons as a starter, Sitton has ranked as one of the top guards in the NFL, according to grades from ProFootballFocus.com.
Last season, according to the NFL's media-only stats site, the Packers averaged 4.89 yards per carry over right guard. That was the seventh-best rate in the league.
Sitton moved from right guard to left guard in the Packers' sweeping remodel of the offensive line, but the change shouldn't be an issue. Easing the transition will be lining up alongside left tackle Bryan Bulaga. When he was at right guard, Sitton started next to seven right tackles. He's got the most chemistry with Bulaga.
"Playing next to somebody for so long, you build that chemistry, you build that friendship, you build that bond with a guy," Sitton said. "You learn how to fit run blocks with somebody and like you said, I've played next to a lot of tackles here, so I know difficult it is to be thrown in with different people. It's a big thing. I'm glad we moved together. Hopefully, we'll kick some ass with it."
Bryan Bulaga: As the Packers' first-round pick in 2010, Bulaga was expected to eventually take over at left tackle. At the time, scouts and media pundits wondered whether Bulaga had the requisite arm length to play the position.
Three years later, we're going to learn the answer, as Bulaga is the focal point of the big line switch.
The hope is Bulaga will be a major upgrade over last year's left tackle, Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse ranked 32nd out of 52 offensive tackles in pass protection last season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. According to the NFL's stats site, the Packers averaged 2.34 yards per carry over left tackle — worst in the league.
Is Bulaga good enough to protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side?
"Yep," was offensive line coach James Campen's one-word answer.
The big battle
Right tackle: There's not a more interesting position battle on the roster. In one corner, it's Newhouse. While it wasn't enough improvement to prevent the big line switch, Newhouse did take a significant step in the right direction in 2012. At right tackle, he wouldn't face the same caliber of pass rushers, though his shortcomings in the run game might be amplified. He took just about every snap with the No. 1 offense.
In the other corner is Don Barclay, who proved himself a formidable run blocker. The run game averaged 10 more yards per game and rang up 10 of its 12 touchdowns with Barclay in the lineup. His pass protection, however, was only so-so. During the spring, he shuttled between right tackle, right guard and center.
Who emerges might not be just about who's the best player. Rather, it's about the direction of the offense. If it will be a pass-heavy emphasis again, which would be logical with Rodgers, then Newhouse looks like the favorite. If McCarthy is truly interested in running the ball and being more physical, then Barclay should get the nod.
Derek Sherrod: The wild card at right tackle is Sherrod, the 2011 first-round pick who missed all of last season with a broken leg sustained late during his rookie season. It's been exactly 83 weeks since Sherrod took a live snap. From the start of training camp to the first regular-season game, there will be six weeks worth of practices. Is that enough time to shake off all that rust and win the starting job?
Andrew Datko: It will be interesting to see Datko compete. Because of the shoulder problems that have dogged his career and doomed his senior season at Florida State, Datko never mounted much of a push for a roster spot last summer. Fast forward 12 months, Datko says he's stronger and more confident. He's got a chance to be the No. 1 left-side backup.
The bottom line
Of the aforementioned 17 picks by Thompson, only four were in the first three rounds — Bulaga and Sherrod in the first, Daryn Colledge in the second and Jason Spitz in the third. Colledge and Spitz aren't on the team and who knows if Sherrod ever will contribute. Of this year's two picks, David Bakhtiari needs a year to get bigger and stronger and J.C. Tretter might miss the season after breaking an ankle on the first day of OTAs.
In that light, McCarthy's decision to shake up the line wasn't really a gamble — not after another season of 50-plus sacks and a bad run game.
Figuring Sitton and T.J. Lang have plenty of time to get used to their new outlooks on life at guard and Evan Dietrich-Smith makes continued progress at center, it all comes down to Bulaga being healthy and capable of playing the marquee spot on the offensive line. If he's at least an average left tackle, that might be good enough given Rodgers' mobility. After all, the Packers scored 999 points the past two seasons with Newhouse getting 26 of the 32 starts at left tackle.
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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.