Offensive Line Depth Stretched Thin
by Mike Conklin
September 7, 2014
As the 2014 season approached, the Packers felt as good about the offensive line as they had in a long time.
"I'm excited about that group," said Mike McCarthy the day before training camp started in July. "The offensive line, in my opinion, has the chance to be the best offensive line that we've had."
Part of the reason for McCarthy's confidence is that he felt going into the season that the Packers had six offensive linemen of starting quality.
Three of those six players are now out of the lineup.
The first blow came when Don Barclay was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament on August 5. Barclay was respected by coaches and teammates alike, and his versatility was what really stood out to the head coach.
"Donny has the ability to potentially play five positions on the offensive line," McCarthy said earlier during the offseason. "I don't know how many guys you can say that about."
When Barclay went down in training camp, some observers thought the Packers may have dodged a bullet that it wasn't one of the primary starters that was lost for the season. The injury weighed much more heavily on Mike McCarthy, who knew how important Barclay was for the team's success.
"Donny, they don't come any better than him," a pained McCarthy said after practice the day Barclay was injured. "He's exactly what you're looking for. Somebody to emulate a Green Bay Packer, on and off the field...he's definitely one of your guys."
With Barclay healthy, the Packers could likely sustain an injury to one of the starters. After he went down, only unproven depth remained.
One bright spot that still stood out was the development of JC Tretter at the pivotal center position. The Packers gambled and went all-in on Tretter during the offseason when they let Evan Dietrich-Smith leave in free agency, and it appeared that the gamble may have been on its way to paying off. Tretter had settled in with the starters, gained the confidence of his teammates (notably his quarterback), and during preseason action it appeared that he would be at least as good as Dietrich-Smith if not better. The Packers starting offense was humming and Tretter was the man standing over the ball every down.
Then Tretter hurt his knee against the Raiders on August 22. A couple days later Mike McCarthy revealed that it was a "significant" injury. Tretter will be out for at least the first half of the season.
Just when it seemed the offensive line was already stretched perilously thin, Bryan Bulaga went down. Injuries had already caused him to wait 669 days in between playing NFL games, when a left knee sprain put him on the sideline again.
Bulaga's injury was a stark reminder of how much it hurt to lose Don Barclay during training camp. With the Packers now down to third-string right tackle Derek Sherrod, the Seahawks were able to take advantage of that position. Sherrod gave up two sacks at big moments in the game.
While it appears that Bulaga's injury is not serious, as he joins Tretter and Barclay as non-participants for the time being the Packers have to be wondering why the injuries continue to mount year after year.
It also makes McCarthy's comments about having the best offensive line since he's been in Green Bay seem like a faded memory.
Continuity among an offensive line is a key part of success in the NFL. Losing fifty percent of the preferred players within that group would prove a challenge to any team. It is a safe bet that the Packers never thought they would go into the second game of the season with Corey Linsley and Derek Sherrod...two players on the bubble going into training camp...in the starting lineup. That now appears to be a likely scenario.
Photo Credit: Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel