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Friday, May 3, 2013
Packers: Will their best LT be good enough?

By Kevin Seifert

So on the first Friday of May, we learned that not one but two former Iowa left tackles will be making their full-time NFL debuts at the position here in the NFC North.

(The similarities don't end there. Both were the No. 23 overall pick of their respective drafts, and both have overcome the often-career ending diagnosis of short arms. Anyhoo …)

We've fully covered the path that the Detroit Lions took to naming Riley Reiff their left tackle -- namely, waiting to see if they found a better option in the draft. Now let's take a closer look at the Green Bay Packers' decision to shift Bryan Bulaga to the position four years after he last played there.

Bryan Bulaga
The Packers are moving Bryan Bulaga, 75, from right tackle to left tackle this season.
Like the Lions, the Packers waited to see what options -- if any -- the 2013 draft would bring them. Three left tackles were already off the board when the Lions chose at No. 5 overall, so it was hardly surprising that the Packers couldn't find an alternative at No. 26 and beyond.

Monday, coach Mike McCarthy made the move that, frankly, I have assumed would be a measure of last resort. After all, if the Packers had always planned for Bulaga to follow the retired Chad Clifton, then why didn't they plug him in last season rather than experimenting with Marshall Newhouse?

My guess is the Packers knew Bulaga had developed into one of the NFL's better right tackles and didn't want to disrupt a good thing if at all possible. They hoped someone -- either Newhouse or 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod -- would grow into the left tackle's job.

That hasn't happened. Sherrod hasn't played since breaking his leg in December 2011. Newhouse was the starter for most of the past two seasons, but over that time he allowed more sacks (16, according to Pro Football Focus) than every full-time NFL left tackle except the Chicago Bears' J'Marcus Webb (19).

The Packers realized that the best tackle on their roster was playing the less challenging of the two positions. And, for that matter, their best guard was also playing away from the blind side of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. When you look at it that way, and you remember McCarthy's offseason goal of improving the left side of the line, you understand why Bulaga is now their left tackle and Josh Sitton is the left guard.

That part makes sense. Bulaga might well be the Packers' best option to play left tackle. Whether he is a good option overall, of course, is a separate issue.

He was available at No. 23 overall in 2009 in part because, yes, his arms measured shorter than the prototypical left tackle, potentially putting him at a reach and leverage disadvantage. And no matter how much good work Bulaga quietly did on the right side over the years, it's difficult for any of us to forget how overmatched he looked in Week 3 last season against the Seattle Seahawks' speed and power pass-rushers.

PFF credited Bulaga for two sacks allowed in that game, along with another hit and eight more quarterback hurries. McCarthy received a fair amount of criticism for his play-calling in that game, which didn't alleviate the pressure on Bulaga and Newhouse quickly enough. But for the most part, you hope that your left tackle can hold his own more often than not against edge pass-rushers.

McCarthy is far more liberal about moving offensive linemen than many NFL coaches, so in itself, close observers can't be shocked by his response. In fact, at least four of the Packers' five presumed starters have made NFL starts at a minimum of two positions.

McCarthy has prioritized the left side of the line over the right, as many coaches would do. But will this solution work? Or is it a short-term bridge until the Packers find the next left tackle they want to experiment with? We'll soon find out.

Note: In total, we will have three new left tackles in the NFC North this season. Bulaga replaces Newhouse. Reiff replaces the retired Jeff Backus, and Jermon Bushrod replaces Webb, whom the Bears moved to right tackle.