The Green Bay Packers have had several best-laid plans along the offensive line since the inevitable breakup of the veteran duo of Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
The Packers used first-round picks on Bryan Bulaga in 2010 and Derek Sherrod in 2011, both with the hope of finding Clifton's successor. Thus far, they haven't started a single game at that position — a trend that potentially will continue through the rest of this season. Bulaga tore his ACL on Saturday night and likely will be lost for the season. Sherrod broke his leg at Kansas City on Dec. 18, 2011, and hasn't taken a competitive snap since.
This was supposed to be Bulaga's season. Upon replacing Tauscher at right tackle in 2010, Bulaga helped the Packers win a Super Bowl, and he stayed there for 2011 and 2012. Finally, in 2013, Bulaga would be Plan A at left tackle after two seasons of inconsistent play from Plan C, Marshall Newhouse.
Losing Bulaga was a double-barrel blow, to be sure, in terms of talent and time investment. While nothing definitive would be learned until a few games into the regular season, it looked like Bulaga belonged at left tackle. Whether it was the combination of speed, strength and ferocity of Clay Matthews or the combination of size, strength and quickness by Datone Jones, Bulaga won snap after snap after snap during the first week of training camp.
"He looks fine out there to me," general manager Ted Thompson said last week. "Bryan's sort of an understated, aw-shucks kind of guy. He just does his job. We'll see. We've got to play in the NFL so he'll get a chance to prove it."
That chance has gone down the drain, which is a too-familiar story for Bulaga. Including playoffs, Bulaga has started 38 of a possible 51 games since replacing Tauscher. He missed the final nine games with a severe hip injury last season and chances are he'll miss 16-plus games this season.
So, where do the Packers turn?
Newhouse has the experience but the choice appears to be rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari has been solid throughout training camp but the occasional matchup against Matthews on a Tuesday at Ray Nitschke Field is a far cry from 70 snaps against Aldon Smith in Week 1 at San Francisco or a daylong battle with Jared Allen at the Metrodome.
"Of course, (like) everyone, my goal is to be a starter," Bakhtiari said last week. "I approach it in increments. Just have a good practice. But even beyond that, I'm like, all right, of course I want to make the team. That's the No. 1 priority. Two, I would love to be among the 46 that suit up. I would love to be a starter. Those are definitely my goals but, at this point, I'm just going to come in and compete and work my you-know-what off. Whatever happens and wherever the coaches feel is best is what I'm going to go with."
Bakhtiari started all three seasons at Colorado, including the final two at left tackle. One of his position coaches there was Steve Marshall, who was Clifton's position coach at Tennessee. Marshall called Bakhtiari a "110 percenter" with a "little bit of nasty" to him. He thought Bakhtiari would be a great fit in the Packers' zone running scheme. Marshall believed Bakhtiari had the ability to play left tackle, though with a lack of ideal length, his ultimate spot might be guard or center. Two scouts before the draft considered Bakhtiari a guard, which is why he fell into the fourth round.
Instead, the fate of the season might hinge on Bakhtiari's ability to play the all-important left tackle position and protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side. Protecting Rodgers' blind side, of course, is why the Packers moved Bulaga — even with the team having scored 999 points the past two seasons. It's a critical position, and yet the Packers are going to have to win games with Plan D.
"He's a very good athlete, No. 1," line coach James Campen said last week. "He's very smart, he doesn't have mental errors — hasn't had one all camp. He's done a very good job with that. He's a tough kid, too. He's a physical kid that's young. He's only a junior coming out like Bryan was, and he has a big upside. How far he's going to go with it, that's up to him. He's a guy that challenges himself to go and get the job done."
Can a fourth-round pick get the job done for an offense that has had problems protecting the quarterback and running the ball? The early signs offer at least some encouragement, but facts are facts. Of the 32 projected starting left tackles, 19 were taken in the first round and six in the second. Including Bakhtiari, only five were taken in the fourth round or later.
"I feel like the job will be mine when I earn it," Bakhtiari said about right tackle after the scrimmage. "I'm going to continue to battle and show that I'm consistent and play good football."
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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.