When quarterback Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass, he is free to scan the field with full confidence that his offensive tackles will keep the NFL’s premier pass rushers at bay.
The backups? That’s another story.
It’s early – or, as coach Mike McCarthy put it while swatting down this writer’s question, it’s “premature” – but the Green Bay Packers appear to have a glaring lack of depth at offensive tackle.
Don Barclay, the Packers’ backup right tackle and by far the team’s most experienced reserve lineman with 18 career starts, had a difficult night against New England on Thursday. Making matters worse, the Packers don’t have a backup left tackle. That became evident on Saturday, when starter David Bakhtiari was sidelined by a knee injury. Rather than elevate second-team left tackle Jeremy Vujnovich into the starting lineup, the Packers inserted Barclay. That essentially showed that Vujnovich, a first-year player out of Division III Louisiana College, has no chance to make the team.
Given these developments, perhaps general manager Ted Thompson and his staff went to church on Sunday and asked the Good Lord for a repeat of last season, when the starting five linemen missed a combined total of one start.
The Packers haven’t tipped their hand as to how they’d handle an injury to Bakhtiari in the regular season. If he were to miss time, standout right tackle Bryan Bulaga probably would shift over to the left side and Barclay would enter on the right side. Bulaga, however, hasn’t taken a snap at left tackle in training camp. Vujnovich has taken the second- and third-team reps throughout camp.
Regardless, Barclay is central to the Packers’ backup plans. And that makes his performance against the Patriots troubling. On the No. 2 offense’s first series, Barclay was beaten by Jabaal Sheard, forcing Scott Tolzien to flip a dangerous end-over-end pass to running back Rajion Neal that fortunately fell incomplete. On the next play, he was beaten again, tackled Sheard and was flagged for holding.
That was the end of Barclay’s night. In six possessions, he allowed one sack and three additional pressures. He was better in the run game.
Is there reason to be concerned that Green Bay’s only experienced backup tackle performed poorly?
“I think your question is totally premature, No. 1,” McCarthy said on Saturday. “We’ve played one preseason game. Don probably played 30 snaps. It’s preseason. There’s things he could do better and he’ll improve on it. But we’ve got another week. We’re going to work on concepts today and Monday, things we want to clean up. Then we’ll have an opportunity to go into a normal week leading into the Pittsburgh game. So, I have no concerns with any of our players.”
The truth is it’s gone beyond his 34 snaps from Thursday. He didn’t play well on Family Night, either. And while it’s only one drill, we have Barclay with a 9-5 record in the one-on-one pass-blocking drill. Only Garth Gerhart has more losses among the non-rookies.
In fairness, Barclay is about a year removed from a torn ACL, making Thursday his first game action since the injury. He’s playing with a bulky brace to protect the knee. Sheard’s a good player, with 23 sacks in four seasons. Before the injury, Barclay was a serviceable backup. He allowed 9.5 sacks in 14 starts in 2013, according to STATS. That’s a lot, though McCarthy trusted him enough to not give him much help and the offense hummed along at an eighth-ranked 26.1 points per game.
Can he at least get back to that level after the injury? That’s what the Packers need to find out in these next three games.
“It felt good to be back out there playing with these guys and competing. You just got to build off it and get better for the next time,” Barclay told ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde after the game. “There were a couple of plays I didn’t like and would like to have back, but I’ll get back out there and work on it in practice.”
The Packers need that work to pay off. Or else, they had better hope that Bakhtiari and Bulaga form an indestructible duo once again.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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.