For the fourth consecutive season, the Packers will start the season with a new starting center. Looking beyond that, Aaron Rodgers never has had the same starting offensive line from one season to the next.
In 2009, Josh Sitton replaced Jason Spitz at right guard.
In 2010, Bryan Bulaga replaced injured Mark Tauscher early in the season.
Oddly, that season of change resulted in the best offensive line of coach Mike McCarthy's tenure.
How much of the running game's success was due to the addition of Eddie Lacy and how much was due to McCarthy's training camp focus on the running game is the unknown. What is inarguable is the Packers rushed for 2,136 yards and 4.7 yards per carry. That's the highest rushing total since 2003 and the only other 2,000-yard season since 1985. The Packers hadn't even averaged 4.0 yards per carry since 2009.
While Green Bay quarterbacks were sacked 45 times — ninth-most in the league — ProFootballFocus.com blamed only 28 of those on the line. With PFF charging a total of 142 pressures to the line, the Packers ranked fourth in the statistical service's "pass block efficiency" rankings (note: premium content).
Now, the Packers have to build on that success with more changes.
With Dietrich-Smith in Tampa Bay, second-year player J.C. Tretter and rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley will battle at center. Neither candidate has played a snap in the NFL. Tretter, a fourth-round pick last year, has the edge in experience, having spent a year immersed in the system, but he's never played center in a game at any level. Linsley was a two-time all-Big Ten center but lacks the professional experience.
"You'd like to have the same guys coming back and working together. The quarterback-center relationship is obviously important," offensive line coach James Campen said. "I always hate the thing, ‘It is what it is.' C'mon, it's the National Football League. Somebody's going to put the ‘G' on their helmet and go play football, and they'll be expected to win and do their job."
There will be a learning curve for Sitton and Lang, as well, though they're used to that by now.
"I think I've had five centers now, so it's tough because you learn one guy and you get used to doing drills next to one guy and you just gel and you know exactly where their foot's going to be and you've going to be right next to each other," Sitton said. "Dietrich was a hell of a player, there was no doubt about it. I really enjoyed playing next to him. But that's what we do. I've played next to, I don't know, 12 tackles since I've been here, so I'm definitely used to playing next to different players. It gives T.J. and I a little bit of a challenge to get him up to speed. It makes it interesting. It's fun teaching him and bringing him along."
At right tackle, Bulaga is back and presumably will be the starter — if he can stay healthy after missing the final seven games of 2012 with a fractured hip and all of 2013 with a torn ACL. McCarthy, however, said he considers Barclay a "starting football player" who will compete with Bulaga for the starting duties.
Because the Packers have done so well drafting offensive linemen, there is solid depth. Barclay can play everywhere but left tackle and Lane Taylor, another former college free agent, has shown promise at guard. Derek Sherrod, the 2011 first-round pick whose career was torpedoed by a broken leg sustained during his rookie season, is going through his first offseason practices in the NFL. He'd be the left tackle should something happen to Bakhtiari.
"Real valuable," Campen said of these practices for Sherrod. "Him getting healthy and coming off the PUP and getting some practice, and he got in five or six plays against Detroit at the end there, all of those experiences for him are stepping stones. Certainly, him starting off with the IPWs and then moving forward to here, it's great to see him out there vertical setting and doing all the things that left tackles should be doing."
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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.