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Packers Should Waste No Time Moving Bulaga to Left Tackle

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Packers Should Waste No Time Moving Bulaga to Left Tackle

Revisiting a column originally published on Jan. 25, 2012 that's timely now given the reporting of Chad Clifton's release...

As soon as Mike McCarthy and the Packers coaching staff gets back from Hawaii and the Pro Bowl, they'll get to work reviewing and analyzing the entire 2011 season, every snap, every decision, every play call.

And one conclusion they'll come to is that Bryan Bulaga needs to be moved to left tackle in time for their first offseason workout in mid-April.

But first things first, it's time to acknowledge and thank Chad Clifton for the job he's done as the left tackle of the Packers for the past 12 seasons. He's a two-time Pro Bowler and did a credible job protecting the backsides of both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers since the turn of the millenium.

The organization is indebted to him for the job he did during the six-game stretch to end the 2010 season––the final two regular season games and the four postseason games––during the Packers' Super Bowl run.

Clifton allowed one sack and had only one penalty over the course of those six games, perhaps the best six-game stretch of his entire career, and it came at the best possible time. His induction into the Packers Hall of Fame is a given.

That being said, it's time for the Packers to move on. Those joints just won't be able to take a pounding for much longer, his over $5 million salary is prohibitive and the team has several younger players with potential waiting in the wings.

Clifton has the opportunity to go out on his own terms and retire, an event which should rightfully be celebrated in Green Bay. But if not, expect the Packers to part ways with Clifton the way they did with his fellow bookend tackle, Mark Tauscher, cornerback Al Harris, and a laundry list of other former Packers past their prime.

Next comes the choice, who will take over for Clifton?

Marshall Newhouse did an adequate, though far from spectacular job, filling in for Clifton the majority of the 2011 season. It was good enough for the Packers to win all but one game in which he started, but also one that he gave up too much pressure and too many sacks on the quarterback.

Meanwhile, Bulaga has done nothing but improve seemingly every game since taking over as the starter at right tackle midway through the 2010 season.

The beginning of Bulaga's professional career was up and down, not unlike Newhouse's: Not bad for a guy getting his first action in the NFL but below the league average.

That was before the four-game playoff run culminating in the Super Bowl where Bulaga played as well on the right side as Clifton did on the left. In other words, Bulaga was a big reason the Packers were able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy a year ago.

And his 2011 season, save for the final two and a half regular season games missed due to injury, was even better. Consider this analysis from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

His improvement was significant from his rookie season. Bulaga allowed 1½ sacks, 2½ knockdowns and 14 hurries for 18 pressures compared with 33½ pressures in '10. Also, he cut his penalty total from 10 to four and his "bad" runs from 14½ to a team-low six.

Bulaga is a rising star in the NFL. Newhouse is still an unknown quantity. It's possible Newhouse will make a huge jump in his development like Bulaga did in 2011, but that's no certainty.

And so, it's time to let Bulaga protect Rodgers' blind side for what's hopefully the next decade.

But the Packers can't afford to play the wait-and-see game with Newhouse, only to watch him try and fail during training camp or during the 2012 regular season and then shift Bulaga on over.

They need to make the move by mid-April so he has an entire offseason to make the adjustment to the left side and get used to his new environs. That way Bulaga will have the offseason program, OTAs, minicamp and training camp to prepare himself for the rest of his career.

And it's not as if making Bulaga the left tackle means giving up on Newhouse. He should be given the first opportunity to start at right tackle. It would benefit his development too by moving him to right tackle as soon as possible and getting him a bunch of reps before September.

Derek Sherrod remains in the picture as well. First of all, he has to focus on getting healthy and overcome his broken leg. But as long as Clifton moves on, Sherrod is probably going to have to be the backup swing tackle, both on the left and right sides.

That may not help in his development where he can focus strictly on one position, but it's also a necessity when the Packers keep only seven offensive linemen active on game days.

Certainly there are risks to switching Bulaga to left tackle. The skill sets of both Newhouse and Sherrod would seem to fit best on the left, quick side of the line. At the same time, Bulaga would appear to be the best fit on right, strong side, of the those three candidates.

But the need to find a cornerstone left tackle for the next decade, along with Bulaga's potential to become that person, trump any reservations or concerns about making such a move.

 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (58) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Kevin's picture

Brian, I think you hit this right on the nail. Bulaga should be moved to left tackle and let Newhouse settle in at right tackle. If Sherrod is not going to be healthy to start out the season then the pack need to decide who the backup is going to be. Maybe find a cheap one in free agency or bring back Herb Taylor until Sherrod can play. I bet TT takes a guy in late round too.

Ebongreen's picture

Mmm, I respectfully disagree.

The way the Packers play, you need linemen who can hold up one-on-one in pass protection. You know you have one in Bulaga at right tackle, and a running mate on the right side in RG Josh Sitton.

By moving Bryan to the left side, you risk discovering that he's really not a left tackle, and you disrupt the working relationship that exists between him and Sitton. Then instead of one doubtful tackle position you've got two, plus instability across the entire offensive line.

I'd rather let Newhouse and Sherrod (when he becomes healthy) work out LT between them and leave the right side of the line alone. In other words, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" - let Bulaga and Sitton continue to anchor where they are, and figure out who's going to make a pair with TJ Lang.

Mel's picture

So you want medicore LT play protecting ARODs blind side just so we have better run blocking on the right side?? You need your best Tackle at LT and that man is Bulaga. Newhouse was scary at times on the left. He would be fine next to sitton and Sherrod starts the season on the pup list considering he broke both bones in his leg. Best move for moving forward is Bulaga at LT.

Anthony's picture

Chemistry is always talked about when it comes to offensive linemen, and players in general. Bulaga and Sitton can trust each other and know who to block and when to block, and can be sure the other knows what to do.

Mel, I think you miss the point that ebon is trying to make: If we move Bulaga to the left side, how can you be so sure if it doesn't work out? What happens if Newhouse is disastrous on the right side? He did look below average on the left, but he will only get better.

What happens if both players have bad seasons because MM does the flip? It will be regarded as a huge, huge mistake.

PackersRS's picture

This notion that the best tackle must play on the blind side is from the time QBs rarely took snaps from the shotgun.

Shotgun = no blind side.

The question is if changing 3 players in the OL, where chemistry is a must, is worth, for when Rodgers takes the snap from under center, when it's a passing play, when he doesn't roll out out of playaction, and when there's no back to protect.

How many times does this happen in a game? I doubt it's more than 20 plays. And we're assuming that neither Newhouse nor Sherrod will be capable of playing LT one-on-one.

If the left side is such a problem in those circumstances, I'd rather they slide the protection everytime, leaving Bulaga and Sitton 1-on-1, than move Bulaga, Sherrod and Newhouse.

Mike's picture

Excellently explained. Bulaga is a Pro-Bowler/All-Pro waiting to happen @ RT. Leave him be. Marshall should just do 1-on-1s against Clay all practice! Ok...maybe not all day but you get the idea I'm putting forth

The Dude's picture

Right on, brotha!

PackersRS's picture

I just hope he doesn't turn into the next Daryn Colledge.

The Packers ask their RBs to block moreso than their TEs. The only thing that changes from being the RT to the LT is facing a quicker pass rusher, as opposed to a more run-oriented one.

Meanwhile, the Packers would lose their strenght in running to the right, and Bulaga would have to once again change his game, his footwork, just when he was getting used to playing RT.

I maintain the stance that I hate this idea. Let the line stabilize and let Sherrod and Newhouse compete for the LT spot.

Moving 3 players from their positions when there wouldn't be much benefit is not a good move IMO.

Bearmeat's picture

THIS ^^^^

plus 500 RS.

cow42's picture

there's nothing i can add except "bingo".

Mojo's picture

I tend to agree with RS and favor leaving Bulaga where he is. I remember BB discussing how hard it is to adjust your footwork from one side to the other. It's like being born right-handed but then forced to do everything left-handed.

I know that the LT spot is considered more prestigious and often will eventually pay more than anywhere else on the line, but I wonder if BB even wants to go back to LT anymore.

And what RS said about shot-gun snaps, where the QB can better see where the rush is coming from is also true. In addition pass-rushers are being implemented on both-sides more often than in the past as this B/R article spells out: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1084327-football-101-tracing-the-evol...

All-in-all I favor leaving BB where he is and developing Newhouse, Sherrod or someone else at LT.

But, despite what I wrote up above, It wouldn't be that big a deal to me it they did make the switch. More important to me is that they sign BB and Lang to extensions so we can-lock in at least three(including Sitton) young promising lineman for years to come.

PackersThad's picture

Agreed in full, Brian. I'd love to see what Sherrod has but I think he won't be fully back until NEXT year. Newhouse was an adequate left tackle so I believe he'd make a fine right tackle.

I think during the draft we should pick up a late round tweener or two. He may be a project and can potentially play both the guard and tackle position. And then we just take it from there.

Lou's picture

Couldn't agree more. The whole "athletic LT, road-grader RT" thing is an anachronism, so I'm glad we have three athletic tackles. The question then becomes where to place the marginal benefit Bulaga's superior run blocking. I actually think this would be a better fit on the left side, given that Sitton is the better run-blocking guard. Bulaga on the left side would give us more horizontal balance.

Lou's picture

Also, most defenses move around their best pass-rusher to face the weaker tackle. Jared Allen is an exception, but a RDE does not always rush from that spot. Newhouse is going to face other teams' best rushers no matter where he is, so I'd prefer to have that on Rodgers' front side.

Kevin's picture

I think moving Bulaga to LT is really a waste of time. As Lou alluded to (A-Lou-ded?) the days of the LT pass blocker and RT run blocker are over. If you don't think Jared Allen and Julius Peppers would find themselves lined up over Newhouse/Sherrod at RT, you are fooling yourself. I also have not seen enough of Bulaga against these premier pass rushers to feel convinced he would be a cornerstone left tackle for years to come.

MarkinMadison's picture

I'm with you on this one Brian - so feel free to change your opinion based on that fact. Blind side = the more reliable tackle. It's not about "road grader" v. "athletic" - I think we can all agree that the Packers will pass the ball all the time no matter what. It's not about whether DEs can flip sides - I think we can all agree that most of them can flip sides. What it's about, "Is your quaterback right-handed or left-handed?" Protect the blind side.

lmills's picture

I don't think i'm on board with this one. I'm a little worried about shuffling linemen (again). I hate the musical chairs the Packers make their linemen play. I do not believe anyone can master their position if they keep moving. All of us can relate to this at our jobs. If you keep changing jobs every 2 years, you will never grasp all the aspects of those jobs. You'll start getting comfortable with something and then have to learn something new again. Keep Bulaga where he's alredy proven to be great. The linemen talk about "gelling" together. Let Newhouse, Sherrod, or someone new win the left tackle position.

MarkinMadison's picture

I don't think the analogy works that well. The jobs are basically the same, just mirror your footwork. Lang had no trouble flipping from LG to RT when needed. There is not that much nuance to it.

Oppy's picture

Mark, are you right handed?

If so, take this little challenge and start doing all of your day to day activities with your left hand.

Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Button your shirt. Write. Use your mouse.

I mean, hell, all you have to do is just mirror your hand movements.

Okay, now I want you to think about having to mirror not only one hand movement, but coordinate both hands, both legs and feet, the angle of your body.. And, oh yeah, you're not brushing your teeth anymore, you're playing a professional sport that features some of the most athletically gifted, explosive, fast, and large men on the planet.

It's not that "There is not that much nuance to it", it that when a professional athlete accomplishes that switch with little drop off, it's a testament to the athlete's amazing focus and dedication. Making that switch look easy is not actually easy. It's amazing.

And not everyone can do it, even at the pro level.

cow42's picture

bingo

Chad Toporski's picture

I'm just glad I don't have to make this decision... There are some valid points being made on both sides of the argument. It is definitely good topic to be discussing and I'm sure one the coaches are taking quite seriously.

dat der Packer-backer's picture

Glad you said it, Chad. I'm sitting here reading all these, going from "oh, that's a good point" to "oh, that's a really good point, as well", and so on. I trust our staff. I hope.

Jake's picture

I still think this is the best option. Bulaga is simply the best tackle on our team, and I think he deserves to protect Rodger's blind side.

That being said, I do understand people who have their doubts about shuffling the O-line around. As well as hindering Bulaga's development moving him around and what not. But I think with a full off season to work it out, this could end up working well.

Mojo's picture

Agree with both Jake and Chad above. Definitely not a cut-and-dried decision. I lean towards Jakes take if (and that's a big if) Bulaga really is the best LT on the roster.

Bob's picture

Well lets think about this, if we go with MM's usual approach. There will be and open competion in training camp and the preseason. All 3 players playing all 3 positions and a decision will be made, maybe going into the last preseason game. Meaning the starting offensive line will again had very little time to get used to playing with each other. Isn't that why they have the regular season, to let your offensive line become a unit.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

No. No it isn't. That's why you have the off-season and preseason, to make decisions on personnel, and give them time to work together/gel. I do realize a unit can become more cohesive over the course of the regular season, but it isn't the time to throw something on the field and hope it pans out, that would be negligent.

redlights's picture

+1

I also can see it both ways, just make a decision early! Newhouse has shown enough that he makes the team unless he totally pukes. Sherrod makes the team because he was a 1st round pick. I don't think the broken leg will be of much consequence in August, but if it is, we still have Newhouse, and he, like Peprah is an adequate fill in. Sherrod has a higher ceiling than Newhouse, so I envision Newhouse being the swing tackle, and maybe fill in at guard someday. Get everybody set soon, let them battle it out, and be ready to take no prisoners in Sept.

As for the draft, yeah, maybe; but Dominquez (?) and Sampson have been on PS for a year, and other teams will discard OL that can save us from using a draft pick on OL.

MarkinMadison's picture

Sherrod really needed an off-season in the weight room. I'd be shocked if the broker leg does not totally derail that plan. I don't see him as providing real competition for a starting spot this year.

redlights's picture

Ok, I see that point. Missed it, before. Thought he'd at least provide competition.

Chris's picture

Bulaga finally settled into his spot at RT, working well with Sitton most of the year. Let Newhouse and Sherrod compete for the LT spot during camp and may the best man win. And maybe McCarthy will realise that he hould run off-tackle runs to the right side more often than the left.

lmills's picture

Bob--- Why would you want your o-line to have to START to become a unit once the season begins. They should start becoming familiar with each other in training camp and preseason so that once the season starts, they can hit the ground running. Not still trying to figure each other out. Just my 2 cents.

Bob's picture

I agree, but MM has never done it thay way. Every year he waits until the last minute to pick the positions that were open. As in last year, Lang was in and out with Sherrod even though, well you know what happened. I don't know why MM does this, he just does, my comment was meant to be sarcastic. How is it MM words "we are going to play our best 5". A policy which has not helped the offensive line early in the season. The Pack if they should decide to move Bulaga will have 2 or 4(maybe left gaurd or center) positions open. If they continue with their established procedure, they will move people around until the last preseason game and then pick a unit to play, maybe 2 series in that game. I don't like it, but that is what will probably happen.

Brian Carriveau's picture

The Packers might not make a decision until late in training camp with positions that are undecided, but they don't do that for guys who are established starters. And that's what they should do for Bulaga. Make him the unquestioned starter at LT from Day 1 of offseason practice. Bulaga has played well enough in the NFL to deserve that.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

We drafted him to be the future LT, well, the future is now. I agree that if they make the move early Brian and Marshall should have adequate time to settle in at their new positions. It's the right move.

GBP 4 LIFE

ibleedgrnngold's picture

I guess it's a bit different since it will be in otas and such but haven't the packers been burned several times by trying to play musical chairs on the Oline? I think Bulaga has excelled at RT and should stay there

mocheeseplease's picture

Does anyone remember Allen Barbe? I don't buy that LT is that much more important than LT. If Bulaga is on his way to becoming an elite RT let him continue on that path. You have to trust that Newhouse and Sherrod will improve. Stay the course.

Bearmeat's picture

Not buying it Brian. Newhouse has better measurables for LT. Bulaga does for RT. AR is a right handed QB - you want the pass pro guy on the Left side.

Newhouse improved a ton from last year. Between him and Sherrod - we'll be fine to great at LT for years.

Leave it as it is.

lebowski's picture

I just hope we didn't end up wasting a first round draft choice last year. Again.

Bearmeat's picture

By again, you mean Harell?

Or Neal in the '10 2nd round?

Every GM misses. I've heard it said that if you "hit" on 2/3 your draft picks you are doing MUCH better than most teams.

TT does a good job. He gambled on Jenkins/Neal this year, and ROLB - and he lost.

But he hits more than he misses.

Remember the Sherminator? Or God forbid, the times before Ron Wolf?

We're in good hands.

lebowski's picture

Not saying it TT's fault, by any means. You can't predict injuries. I'm just hoping it wasn't a wasted pick, because he showed nothing this year, and now he's going to lose a whole offseason again. That can derail a guy's career, as we've seen before.

Bearmeat's picture

I'm hoping so too. But, if it turns out to be a "wasted" pick, it still will fall well within TT's margin for error.

Now, if he misses 3 1st rounders in a row like the Vikes and Bears have, then we have a problem.

We're nowhere near that yet.

PackersRS's picture

Whoa. Showed nothing? You're talking about Sherrod?

I vehemently disagree. He started the year slowly, as expected from a player that didn't have offseason workouts with the team and that came from a very different offense, where he played exclusively from the 2 point stance.

He showed enough improvement over the year that he was starting to take snaps away from Newhouse, before he got injuried.

But, I'm worried about the injury as well. Can't help but to remember of another former late 1st round OT that got injuried and never played again.

Though, truth be told, Michels injuried the same knee 3 times. Sherrod doesn't have any injury history.

lebowski's picture

There were 8 other offensive linemen chosen in the first round last year, all were starters (until James Carpenter and Gabe Carimi ended up on IR). Even the two chosen in the middle of the 2nd round, Wisniewski and Ijalana, became starters. If he had shown anything when Clifton went down he could have gotten playing time, but he couldn't outperform a marginal Newhouse. If you want to 'vehemently disagree', go ahead, but the fact is out of all those O-linemen he not only couldn't start, but couldn't replace an injured starter. I'm hoping he can one day. An offseason would have helped a ton.

packeraaron's picture

Yes, they were all starters. Because their teams had terrible offensive lines that desperately needed their services. The Packers, on the other hand, took Sherrod knowing it was a luxury/future pick. Also - none of those teams had a player as good as Newhouse on their roster for their new picks to compete with.

I understand being wary - but don't condemn Sherrod because he was taken by a front office that does their job better than most.

nerd's phone's picture

Sherrod will be fine. He'll have an offseason to bulk up, and the broken leg has a better prognosis than a knee injury. Just don't jerk him around between T and G this year.

MarkinMadison's picture

You can't do squats with a broken leg. Bench press if fine and all that, but give me lineman who can do a solid squat. Insert jokes here.

BrianD's picture

We should have Rodgers throw left handed instead. That way Bulaga can remain at RT AND protect Rodgers' blind side.

PackersRS's picture

Would still be the best QB in the NFC North...

Cole's picture

Bulaga's arms are faaaaar to short to play LT,

PackersRS's picture

+10000

philip's picture

yeah, bulaga's a regular t-rex

Nick Diamonds's picture

Too true. Awesome.

Remember Mike Flanagan. Bad broken leg, surgeries, rehab, surgeries, rehab. Productive 3-4 year starter for the Packers.

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2382179

"A third-round choice in the 1996 draft, Flanagan suffered a ghastly right leg injury during the preseason of his rookie season. The injury was so severe, and required so much rehabilitation that Flanagan played in just two games during his first three seasons and started only twice in his first five years in the league."

This is player development to the core. Stick with the player who sticks with it. Packer people.

Sherrod will be given ALL the time he needs to get right. We will be fine.

fred's picture

The overall performance of 2011 offense wasn't a problem, so I don't see any real need to switch things up on the OL. Keeping Wells in GB should be the primary focus.

Wagszilla's picture

Sherrod you mean the guy that's going to be cut after next season?

Newhouse at LT, Bulaga at RT.

See ya Week 1.

TXBadger's picture

Sherrod gone after next season? Did you know that he's a first round draft pick? Even if he was awful, which wasn't the case this year, he'll still be a Packer for at least the next 2 years.

packeraaron's picture

Sherrod will be given as many chances as Justin Harrell was. He's not going anywhere anytime soon.

bryce's picture

Yes! Thank you Brian! Could not agree any more!

retiredgrampa's picture

An important and worthy topic. Once we have a somewhat normal (if shortened) pre-season we should see quickly if Newhouse has improved enough to warrant LT job. If so, it's a no brainer to keep Bulaga on the right side. Sitton had a less than steller season so I see him back on track this year.

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