The Green Bay Packers lack of depth on the offensive line was exposed last year when a rash of injuries hit the position and sidelined several starters late in the season.
With Don Barclay struggling to return from an ACL injury suffered in 2014, JC Tretter was the only reliable reserve offensive lineman on the roster, filling in at center, guard, and even left tackle in the playoffs.
If Green Bay’s starting five remain healthy in 2016 the group should return to its outstanding 2014 play. However, if injuries do plague the position again this year then the Packers should be more equipped to handle it.
Tretter remains a viable backup, and now Green Bay also has a very talented backup left tackle in second-round choice Jason Spriggs. The Packers also have several young players who will compete in camp for the last spot or two at the position.
With the top seven spots on the offensive line depth chart already locked up for the 53-man roster, its likely the Packers go into the regular season with nine players at the position, given the depth of their training camp roster.
For the first time in several years, the Packers go into the preseason with an influx of talent on the offensive line. The competition for the last couple of spots on the depth chart should be more heated than in years past.
Reserve Offensive Line: Don Barclay vs. Kyle Murphy and Lane Taylor vs. Josh Walker
Barclay has experience on his side, notching 23 starts in three seasons. He’s been one of the Packers more reliable reserve offensive linemen, but his 2014 injury has to be a concern. After missing an entire season, Barclay struggled to return to his old form and was a major liability in pass protection whenever he was called up to fill in for a starter.
The hope is he’ll get back to his old form another year removed from the ACL injury. However, there’s a chance he’ll never be the same player again. This possibility is probably a big reason the Packers drafted two tackles this offseason.
Murphy will push Barclay for a roster spot as the team’s top reserve right tackle. As a two-year starter at Stanford, Murphy has logged snaps at both tackle spots, but many scouts feel he’s best suited at right tackle in the NFL.
Like Barclay, Murphy can also fill in at right guard. Both players are physical blockers who excel against the run. However, Murphy does offer better size and length, measuring in at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, which may give him an advantage sealing the edge against athletic pass rushers.
If Barclay has a strong camp, he’ll be a near lock for the Packers regular season roster, which would probably push Murphy to the practice squad. However, if Barclay shows a lack of consistency protecting the pocket in the five preseason contests then Green Bay may cut ties and go with the younger option in Murphy.
With Barclay and Murphy battling over the final tackle spot on the roster, Taylor and Walker are the top two contenders to land the reserve guard role. Both players can play on either side of the line, but considering the Packers re-signed Taylor to a two-year $4.15 deal this offseason tells us they have him in their plans for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps, he’s their insurance policy at guard if both Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang leave in free agency next offseason. The Packers seem to like what Taylor showed on the field in his limited action last season. Only going into his fourth year, Taylor still has plenty of good football ahead of him.
Walker made the 53-man roster last year, but didn’t see a lot of action after he struggled at tackle. He seems better suited for guard, but he’ll have to beat out Taylor in camp in order to make the regular season roster this time around.
Well established veterans like Sitton, Lang, Bakhtiari, and Bulaga may not see a lot of snaps in the five exhibition games next month. The Packers will want to keep them fresh going into the regular season.
This means the battle for the reserve offensive line spots will be on full display during the preseason, giving each guy a chance to prove he deserves a spot on the 53-man roster. Even a guy like Matt Rotheram could sneak into the conversation with a good camp this summer.
A lot has yet to be decided on the offensive line beyond the starters. It should be interesting to watch as it plays out.