How Will the Packers Protect Aaron Rodgers?


Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) lies on the turf after getting sacked by the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at CenturyLink Field last season. How long can this go on? Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Aaron Rodgers hit the deck by way of a sack 51 times. In his five seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback, he’s been sacked a head-shaking 215 times.

Seriously? Two-hundred-fifteen sacks in just five seasons. That’s a lot of time for Rodgers’ butt to get acquainted with the various turfs around the NFL. What in the name of Forrest Gregg is going on here?

aaron rodgers green bay packers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is pressured by San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith (99) during the second quarter of the NFC divisional round playoff game at Candlestick Park. Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Now the club is about to make Rodgers the highest-paid player in NFL history, with a salary rumored to be as much as $25 million annually.

What I’m getting to here is that, barring teaching Rodgers to throw a football from his keister, something has got to give. You can’t build an NFL team essentially around one cog and then let him get knocked on his derriere by 300-pound gorillas 50 times a season.

You just can’t.

Marshall Newhouse was the man charged with protecting Rodgers’ blind side for part of 2011 and all of 2012, and he didn’t grade out anywhere near the top of the league’s left tackles in the latter season. In fact, just this week an unnamed NFC scout was quoted as saying that Newhouse is not an “ideal” left tackle in the NFL.

“You have to do things in your protection scheme to give him help at times,” the scout said. “Not every snap. You’re not going to want to leave him alone every snap. You really haven’t had anybody to push him. If you had somebody outside, he could be a swing guy.”

Offensive line coach James Campen gets into the face of Marshall Newhouse during the Packers season opener against the San Francisco 49ers last season. Newhouse’s inconsistency at the left tackle position was a problem for the Packers last year. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

In other words, Newhouse is best served to remain a backup, which is what he was until injuries decimated the offensive line (more on that later).

So does that mean the Packers will take a left tackle with their No. 26 pick in the NFL draft in two weeks?

Not necessarily.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal writer Tyler Dunne believes Bryan Bulaga could easily slide from right tackle to left, with undrafted upstart Don Barclay taking over the right side, at least until we find out whether former first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod’s shattered left leg has been properly put back together again.

However, Dunne also said he thinks it would be a smart move to draft Alabama tack D.J. Fluker with the No. 26 if he’s available, just in case Barclay takes a step back this season. The Packers could also look at lesser-known tackles like Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead, Syracuse’s Justin Pugh, Florida State’s Menelik Watson or Tennessee’s Dallas Thomas in rounds one or two.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s an intriguing article over at ESPN.com, saying that the value of left tackles is dwindling thanks to the changing nature of how the NFL game is played. The reasoning? With the read-option and spread offenses taking over the NFL, quarterbacks are spending less time in the pocket because they are either on the run or getting the ball out quickly with short, precise passing attacks.

And consider this startling fact, related in the ESPN story:

Of the 12 left tackles drafted in the top 10 since 2004 – totaling contracts worth more than $500 million – only three have a postseason victory, and not one has an NFL title to his credit.

So just how important is left tackle?

Protecting Aaron Rodgers becomes more important this season.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Well, for Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson, perhaps that left tackle position, which traditionally has been an anchor of the offense as a whole, isn’t as important as one might think. But for Rodgers, whose style of play is to hold the ball until the last possible second, hoping a big play will develop downfield, a top-notch left tackle is less a luxury and more a necessity.

It also must be addressed that conventional wisdom is that the only way to get a sure-fire left tackle via the draft is to have a Top 10 pick. If the ESPN article is correct, however, even that doesn’t ensure success. But we do know there won’t be any left-tackle locks at No. 26. That’s what they call a Catch 22 – you gotta have a good left tackle to protect your $25 million man, but at the back end of the first round, there are no guarantees.

Whether it’s a fully-healed Sherrod (which doesn’t look terribly promising, to hear coach Mike McCarthy discuss it), a successful Bulaga switch or an inspired draft pick, GM Ted Thompson and his brain trust need to come up with an answer.  Because soon there will be an even greater need to invest in keeping Rodgers upright.

Tags: Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers Packers Offensive Line