Packers need added depth at offensive tackle

Today is the fifth day of two weeks of Green Bay Packers coverage leading up to the April 25 beginning of the NFL draft.

April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
Today: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Ted Thompson’s draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick

TODAY’S POSITION: OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Importance (1-to-10 scale): 8

On the roster

Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury in 2012 but is expected to make a full recovery in time for next season. Bulaga could return to right tackle or possibly make the switch to left tackle.

Marshall Newhouse started every game at left tackle for the Packers last season. He struggled at times but finished the season on a positive note. If there is an upgrade to make on Green Bay’s offensive line, it’s with Newhouse.

Derek Sherrod is the big question mark in this group. He was the Packers’ first-round pick two years ago, but a broken leg in 2011 kept him off the field last season. If Sherrod can fully recover, it’s as if Green Bay is adding a 24-year-old first-round pick type of talent. If he can’t fully recover and the Packers are counting on him to be available, it will be a problem.

Don Barclay, who started four games last season as an undrafted rookie, and 2012 seventh-round pick and practice-squad player Andrew Datko round out Green Bay’s current unit.

Last five offensive tackles drafted

2012 — Andrew Datko, Florida State: seventh round (241st overall) — still with the Packers
2011 — Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State: first round (32nd overall) — still with the Packers
2010 — Bryan Bulaga, Iowa: first round (23rd overall) — still with the Packers
2010 — Marshall Newhouse, TCU: fifth round (169th overall) — still with the Packers
2009 — Jamon Meredith, South Carolina: fifth round (162nd overall) — released in September 2009, now with the Buccaneers

Philosophy at the position

General manager Ted Thompson hasn’t been shy about using first-round picks on offensive tackles in recent years. First it was Bulaga in 2010, then Sherrod in 2011. But Sherrod’s injury and uncertainty from coach Mike McCarthy about whether to move Bulaga to left tackle has Thompson in a situation in which he may have to invest another top pick in an offensive tackle.

Aaron Rodgers was sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL last season, and though some of those sacks were due to his desire to keep plays alive longer than time allowed, the offensive line was mostly to blame. Bulaga wasn’t nearly as good last season as he was in 2011, but there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll bounce back. Though Newhouse has improved, he has a very important responsibility to protect Rodgers’ blind side and could be replaced in the starting lineup.

Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)

D.J. Fluker, junior, Alabama (6-5, 339). Fluker was a very good run blocker and average pass protector in college. There’s hope he can improve in the passing game, though, given his long arms and ideal height.

Fluker is either going to be the fourth or fifth offensive tackle selected in this draft, battling with Florida State’s Menelik Watson to determine which of them will go before the other. However, one of them will almost certainly be available at No. 26 if the Packers want to go that direction. Both Fluker and Watson deserve to be first-round picks, and adding either of them would be a quality selection for Green Bay at that spot.

Fluker, who was recruited as a defensive tackle, could be a Day 1 starter for the Packers at either left or right tackle.

Fluker says: “Some of the schemes in the NFL that offensive teams run, it’s kind of the same scheme (as Alabama); a pro-style offense. I think I’ll transition well to the type of offense there, and it should be no problem.”

Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)

David Bakhtiari, junior, Colorado (6-4, 299). Bakhtiari enjoyed just one victory last season at Colorado. One win! But he was a bright spot on an otherwise horrible team. He will definitely be drafted somewhere in the second or third round. Bakhtiari is a bit of a potential-based pick. He declared for the draft early with questions still surrounding whether he can cut it at offensive tackle in the NFL given his frame (he’s 40 pounds lighter than Fluker). He’s the type of player who could be a steal in the third round or could be a bust.

Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)

Ricky Wagner, senior, Wisconsin (6-6, 308). This former Badgers walk-on will be drafted sometime on Day 3. He has good height and quality Big Ten experience, starting 36 games in his college career. He’s a better run blocker than pass blocker at this stage in his development, mostly because he lacks the speed and quickness to protect a quarterback at a high level. But, like every late-round pick, the player will have weaknesses. Adding a player such as Wagner would give the Packers depth at a position that needs it.

FOXSports.com’s draft expert Taylor Jones says: “When (Sherrod) was a prospect, he couldn’t run block to save his life. He struggled terribly in that regard. From a pure pass setting, though, he would dominate. I think he’s a natural left tackle. As a coaching staff, they’ll have to evaluable that. But does he live up to that potential and stay healthy?

“Interior offensive line may be a better option for the Packers. But, if a tackle falls to them that they have on their board, I don’t know that they pass them up.”

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