Several times last season, Mike McCarthy called the offensive line the best of his tenure as Green Bay Packers coach.
For instance, this is what McCarthy had to say on Aug. 20: “It’s an excellent room, clearly our best offensive line room in my time here top to bottom.”
If 2015 was “the best,” what might that make the 2016 offensive line?
The starting five is back intact, as are backups J.C. Tretter, Lane Taylor, Josh Walker and Don Barclay. Not only did they retain Taylor and Barclay in free agency, but they drafted Indiana’s Jason Spriggs in the second round and Stanford’s Kyle Murphy in the sixth round.
That’s 11 players at a position at which the Packers kept nine on last year’s roster. And that’s going to mean a heated competition once the pads are strapped on next month.
That, however, is not the only reason why offensive line coach James Campen was so excited last week.
“It’s a very competitive room, no question,” Campen said. “They’re such a good group that they help each other. They understand what’s in front of them. It’s not easy to see what’s in front of you but it’s also like, ‘Hey, look, there’s some good people in this room.’ They help each other a ton but, at the same time, when it comes down to the end of the deal, there’s good football players in there that may not have an opportunity. Certainly, it’s a very competitive room.”
There’s a reason why general manager Ted Thompson drafted two players at what already was a deep position group. Three starting linemen — left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Josh Sitton, right guard T.J. Lang — will be unrestricted free agents following the season, as will Tretter and Barclay. That’s five free agents, making today’s 11-strong group seem like a necessity more than a luxury.
If the extensive depth chart is providing a few less sleepless nights for Campen, he wasn’t saying. His only concern is coaching the group that will be under his watch in 2016, not looking ahead to who he might be coaching in 2017.
“I won’t comment on that. That’s not my job,” he said. “I know the ones we have now and that’s all I care about. I don’t worry about that stuff. I really, truly never have. I mean that. When you coach high school ball and you go through that for nine years, you lose half your roster every year. To me, I rely on that so it doesn’t get to me. It’s not my area. I don’t have to concern myself with it. My job is to coach who’s there. I wish the best for every one of the guys and they’ll get what they deserve. That’s the way it is. It’s a tough part of the business.”
Until those financial decisions are made, the linemen say they are focusing only on the upcoming season. Injuries prevented that unit from living up to the hype and building off of the second half of the 2014 season, when the line helped carry the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.
The group will get another chance this year to stamp itself as one of the best in business.
“You look all the way across the board, each guy has a case to be the top player at his position in this league, and that’s something that’s really special,” Lang said. “I know we’re all excited about putting together another solid year up front.”
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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.