The date was October 5, 2009.
Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre’s first game against his former team, the Green Bay Packers, had been overshadowed by the five turnstiles in front of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers allowed eight sacks after left tackle Chad Clifton left with an ankle injury. Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang unsuccessfully attempted to stop defensive end Jared Allen, who finished with 4.5 sacks, and three other defenders recorded sacks in the 30-23 loss.
Fast forward 22 months, to 2011 Packers training camp, and the Packers can actually say their offensive line is a strong suit on their already high-powered offense.
Mainstays left tackle Chad Clifton, center Scott Wells, and right guard Josh Sitton have proved their worth and are locked into starting roles entering the season. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who took over for Mark Tauscher midway through last season, seems to be locked into his position as well.
When left guard Daryn Colledge became too expensive for the Packers’ wallet and left for a five-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, it left a void at the position that will see healthy competition to determine the starter.
The Packers clearly planned ahead for Colledge’s departure, drafting left tackle Derek Sherrod in the first round and left guard Caleb Schlauderaff in the sixth round.
Sherrod, a senior out of Mississippi, has seen the first team reps at left guard through the first three practices, and reports from training camp are that he has struggled. Being that it is the first time in the rookie’s life he has played inside, the struggles are understandable and he will have time to improve, but smart money is on him being groomed by Clifton before taking over him in the next year or two.
One of the bright spots of Monday night’s practice, the team’s first in pads, was Marshall Newhouse. The second year guard/tackle from TCU was active for all 16 games last season as a reserve but will now get his chance to shine. Monday night Newhouse primarily played at left tackle, but the progression is good to see and it adds another player to the list of potential left guards.
T.J. Lang was the frontrunner before camp began but, based on reports, has been quiet through the first three practices. He has ran with the second team offensive line at left guard and will more have a fair shot to win the starting gig. The same goes for 2010 undrafted rookie Nick McDonald, who also has the ability to play center, which should certainly help his standing on making the active roster. McDonald worked at center with the number twos on Monday night.
The Packers experimented with Bulaga at left guard a year ago in training camp, so Sherrod seeing first-team reps makes sense.
There hasn’t been much talk of Schlauderaff, who is the only pure left guard in the starter’s race. That should help him, but his lack of versatility may also hurt him if he does not win the job.
Either way, the 2009 days of instability on the offensive line are a thing of the past and, whoever ultimately wins the job, the Packers finally have a positive outlook in the run game.