Rodgers acknowledges Packers' lack of O-line depth
GREEN BAY As far as Aaron Rodgers is concerned, the five big guys who will line up in front of him Sunday compare favorably with any offensive line he has played behind during his time in Green Bay.
Left guard T.J. Lang, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga form a solid core of returning starters. Jeff Saturday is the newcomer — and he brings 13 seasons' worth of experience from Indianapolis. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse is the biggest question mark, and the Packers are banking on the notion that he'll improve after spending much of last season filling in for the injured Chad Clifton.
"The starting five is great," Rodgers said Wednesday, as the Packers prepared for Sunday's season opener against San Francisco at Lambeau Field. "I think we've got a lot of experience, a lot of guys who played a lot of time, obviously not (all) together. But Josh and T.J. have a lot of starts now, Bryan obviously has been a part of a lot of starts. Jeff brings experience to the line. Marshall's kind of played all over but is settling into his starting role."
But when it comes to the Packers' offensive line depth, Rodgers acknowledges that they're probably "a little thinner" than in years past — raising the question of what a significant injury to one of those five starters might do to a team once again expected to contend for the Super Bowl.
On the team's unofficial depth chart, Evan Dietrich-Smith is listed as the backup at center and both guard spots. Don Barclay, an undrafted free agent rookie from West Virginia, is listed as the backup at both tackle spots.
Behind them? Nobody.
The Packers have three offensive linemen on their practice squad, Andrew Datko, Chris Scott and Greg Van Roten. Last year's first-round pick, Derek Sherrod, is on the physically unable to perform list after breaking his leg last season.
"We've got seven guys on the active roster, one on PUP and then a few on the practice squad," Rodgers said. "So a little thinner than in the past."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that he's "obviously" comfortable with the situation, given the fact that they've typically had only seven offensive lineman active on game days.
"Having 10 linemen in-house with the seven offensive linemen on the 53 (man roster) and the three practice squad players, I have a lot of confidence in the way we go about developing players year-round," McCarthy said. "We don't just give our veterans or the guys that are playing on Sunday reps during the course of the week. We spend a lot of extra time with our younger players. For the most part, we've always had 10 offensive linemen in-house and that's where we are today. I'm comfortable with that."
But an injury to a tackle could send the Packers scrambling.
If Newhouse or Bulaga gets hurt, the Packers could bypass the inexperienced Barclay and instead move Lang to fill in at tackle and have Dietrich-Smith take his place at left guard.
Most fans know Dietrich-Smith for being on the receiving end of Ndamukong Suh's infamous stomp last Thanksgiving, but Rodgers says he can play.
"Evan Dietrich-Smith as the sixth guy is a guy we have a lot of confidence in, at guard and center," Rodgers said. "He's had, really, a great two years. I think he really made some strides last year in training camp, got in last year, played some good time for us and has just continued to improve."
Lang, meanwhile, has played some tackle in the past and says he's ready to shuffle around in a pinch.
"Being a rookie to being a fourth-year guy kind of speaks for itself," Lang said. "Back then, I was floating a little bit out there. I wasn't really comfortable with the playbook and the speed of the game. Now, this being my fourth year, if I had to bounce, I haven't played left tackle in two years but I do have a lot of experience with it my first and second year.
"If something does happen where I have to bounce out there, we'll run with it. Hopefully, that doesn't have to happen. Hopefully, we all stay healthy — that's the main goal — but I've had enough experience at both left and right tackle that, if emergency happens, I could bounce out there and play."
Not that Lang wants it to come to that.
"It kind of is what it is," Lang said. "Obviously, our goal up front is to stay healthy. We never really want to put ourselves in position for guys to be bumping around and playing positions that they're a little unfamiliar with."