Either way, the depth up front should be a strength to the team.
After Bryan Bulaga's season ended with a torn ACL sustained on Family Night, the Packers turned to fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari started all 16 games and survived a gauntlet of top pass rushers.
"David, I don't think you could ask for more than what David gave us this year," coach Mike McCarthy said during his season-ending press conference on Wednesday. "I know Josh Sitton did an excellent job with David. You talk about a left guard and a left tackle developing that relationship, that's critical over there, and I know David really appreciates that, too, and that's what you look for from your veterans. I thought David had a good solid season for us and I'm excited about him growing because he's a young man. He's got a lot of growth in front of him."
The question looking ahead is what do the Packers do with Bulaga, the 2010 first-round pick, and Derek Sherrod, the 2011 first-round pick? Bulaga, who contemplated playing this season with what he called a "partial" tear to the ACL, wouldn't put a timeline on his comeback from surgery. However, he said the rehab has gone "smooth" and without any setbacks. Given the date of the injury, he'll be almost a full year removed when training camp opens.
"That's a nice goal," Bulaga said on Monday.
Bulaga started 33 games at right tackle from 2010 through 2012; he missed four games with knee injuries in 2011 and the final seven games with a hip injury in 2012. When the Packers lined up for offseason practices last spring, Bulaga was moved to left tackle in an effort to improve the blind-side protection provided for Aaron Rodgers by Marshall Newhouse for most of the previous two seasons.
Presumably, the Packers will move Bulaga back to right tackle and stick with Bakhtiari at left tackle. But McCarthy said no decisions have been made.
"Talking to both Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga, I told them both that as we go through this evaluation process, as soon as we decide how we're going to set reps as far as positions and the identity that I'd get back to them," McCarthy said. "I don't have an answer for you right now."
What the Packers will have to determine is whether Bakhtiari is good enough – or has the potential to be good enough – to protect Rodgers. According to ProFootballFocus.com's player grades, only five left tackles were worse than Bakhtiari. However, in terms of pass protection, Bakhtiari ranked 12th in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency metric, which takes into accounts sacks, hits and hurries allowed per passing play.
"What you see is a guy that's a young player that had a tremendous amount of competition every week, as you will at that position," offensive line coach James Campen said. "He learned as he went along. He's an ascending player that's going to be in the mix for quite some time. He's proven that. Very smart, intelligent kid that works extremely hard. I know that Josh helped him out a lot, too, which is expected of him being the player that he is. That helped his growth. Very head-strong kid that has a bright future."
With a year of offseason training and seasoning, can Bakhtiari become a quality left tackle? Is Bulaga – his injury history notwithstanding -- the better option? Is Sherrod a potential wild card? Do the Packers spend the offseason rotating Bakhtiari, Bulaga and Sherrod at both tackle spots, then let them Duke it out for the first couple of weeks of training camp?
"Oh, heck, I couldn't even tell you, to be honest with you," Campen said when asked who lines up where. "We just finished the football game and really haven't watched the San Francisco tape as a staff yet. That process will be worked out in the future."
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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.