Packers' O-line seems set, but questions remain
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)
Don't try to tell Green Bay Packers offensive line coach James Campen that his starting five basically was determined before training camp started.
Fearing a sense of complacency, Campen doesn't want anyone thinking their job is locked up.
''You know, it's funny,'' Campen said. ''Stranger things have happened. Guys can emerge in the preseason. All of a sudden, bam, there's another guy that's out there playing - `Holy crap, what happened?' He beat him out.''
Still, it would be a significant surprise not to see the following players line up for the Sept. 9 regular season opener against San Francisco: Left tackle Marshall Newhouse, left guard T.J. Lang, new center Jeff Saturday, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
That's a big change from the recent past, when the Packers often used camp and the preseason to determine at least one offensive line starter. And while the line might be more settled this year, questions remain:
- Is Newhouse really a starting left tackle for a Super Bowl contender?
The third-year player out of TCU did a decent job as a fill-in for injured veteran Chad Clifton last season. Now Clifton is gone - and last year's first-round pick, Derek Sherrod, is recovering from a broken leg last season.
With no obvious competition for the starting job, the Packers are counting on Newhouse to improve his consistency.
''I honestly don't think the job is mine, but I'm approaching it like I'm out there to be the guy that they can count on,'' Newhouse said.
- How seamless will Saturday's transition be?
Signing a five-time Pro Bowl selection with a rock-solid injury history - he has started 16 games in 10 of his 13 seasons - seems like a winning move for general manager Ted Thompson.
''How blessed can you be? You go from MVP to MVP and both guys are well-deserving,'' Saturday said. ''Aaron (Rodgers) is an absolute stud. I've been impressed with his work ethic, I've been very impressed with his knowledge of the offense, and I'm excited to have a chance to win with him. Let's go try to put another trophy on the shelf, man.''
But Saturday still has to learn a new offense and establish chemistry with his teammates.
''He has to work at it, with different techniques and getting used to new guys and so forth, terminology and schemes and those things,'' Campen said. ''I know those guys help him if he needs it. Slowly but surely, it's starting to decrease and it has and he's doing a good job with it.''
- Do the Packers have the depth to withstand injuries?
This could become a critical factor in the team's ability to win it all this season.
''We've got to prepare as many guys as we can to get out there,'' Lang said. ''You never know what's going to happen. Obviously, you don't want to see the injuries, but it's part of the game, they do happen, and you have to make sure if you're a backup you're doing everything right to where if you're needed to play, you can step in and get the job done.''
If Newhouse sustained a significant injury, it's not clear who would step in as the team's starting left tackle. For now, it won't be Sherrod, who has yet to return to practice.
''I don't see it this week, for sure,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ''He's doing everything he possibly can. The training staff feels very good about him, so at what point in training camp? They haven't really given me that answer yet.''
In a pinch, Bulaga potentially could switch to the left side, Lang could move to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith could play guard - but that's a lot of moving parts in the absence of obvious backups.
Beyond that, the Packers are relying on a group of young players for depth.
Lang remembers the challenges he experienced as a rookie.
''Just when you think you're getting comfortable, the next day you're putting in 10, 15 new plays to learn,'' Lang said. ''So it can be tough. I think a lot of those guys are doing a good job adjusting. But it's something that just takes time. It takes a lot of studying, a lot of film work and just the experience of going out and doing it live and in person against a defense. We've still got a little ways to go. We've still got to improve on the mental error side of it. But I think for the most part, we've got a good group of new guys in there.''
Young linemen would be expected to make mistakes early in camp, and Campen acknowledged that this year is no different.
''You see a bunch of guys that are learning and growing and making mistakes and then getting them corrected on film and moving on and moving forward,'' Campen said. ''From that standpoint, they've done a good job with that. The fundamentals, we need to get moving. Some guys need to get moving.''
With a week's worth of practices complete, Campen says he has plenty of material to motivate his players going into Friday's ''Family Night'' scrimmage.
''We chart everything and see it and look at it - you need to work on this, you need to work on inside hand placement, whatever it is,'' Campen said. ''What they're all going through right now - install, install, install - they're remembering plays, but you forget your fundamentals. Now we can give that information to them starting tomorrow and then start seeing the improvement.''