2010 NFL Question Marks: Green Bay Packers

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers calls a play against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Packers and whether or not Green Bay fans can expect the offensive line to keep Aaron Rodgers upright this season.

You’re dreaming if you don’t think the Packers have what it takes to reach the Super Bowl this year. Aaron Rodgers proved last season that he could play at an elite level and Dom Capers was a miracle worker (he only had one offseason to transform the Packers from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and they finished 2nd in the NFL in total defense) in his first year as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator.

But even though expectations are high right now in the land of cheese, one question continues to loom large: Can the offensive line keep Rodgers upright?

I don’t know how Rodgers didn’t wind up breathing out of a tube at some point last year. The amount of blows he took on a weekly basis was flabbergasting, but to his credit he somehow went on to throw for 4,434 yards and 30 touchdowns.

I don’t think you’re listening: He threw for 4,434 yards and 30 touchdowns with the equivalent of a FINISH LINE ribbon for an offensive line.

Now, was some of that his fault? Yes. At times, he took far too long to get rid of the ball and he sometimes took sacks that he shouldn’t have. But most of the blame could be laid at the feet of the offensive line.

Realizing his biggest need was to get more protection for Rodgers, GM Ted Thompson used the team’s first round pick on Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga in April. While veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are expected to start this year, Bulaga gives the Packers much-needed depth and an eventual successor to either tackle.

Of course, given the amount of injuries (not to mention poor play) that the Packers sustained on the offensive line last year, Bulaga better be ready to play as a rookie. Tauscher gave up a sack, four QB hits and nine QB hurries in two games alone against the Vikings last year. On the other side, Clifton was more than adequate when he was on the field, but he couldn’t stay healthy and T.J. Lang struggled as his replacement.

When Daryn Colledge slid to left tackle at one point during the season, the combination of him and Lang was an utter disaster in pass protection. The only saving grace from the play of last year’s O-line was right guard Josh Sitton, who played every snap and was solid in both run-blocking and pass-protection, and center Scott Wells, who turned out to be a valuable commodity in the run game.

If Clifton can stay healthy this season, then Colledge can stay at guard where he’s more comfortable. And if Tauscher struggles again this year, at least it’ll be Bulaga that replaces him and not Lang or Allen Barbre. (The same can be said for if Clifton can’t stay healthy again.)

The bottom line is that the Packers are in much better shape now than they were a year ago because of Bulaga. But let’s keep in mind that he’s only a rookie and at this point, he’s going to be counted on as a swing tackle and not a starter. The key this year is for Clifton to stay healthy and for Tauscher to play better than he did in ’09. If Clifton goes down and both Tauscher and Bulaga struggle, then we could see a repeat of last year.

But even with all of their troubles in pass protection last year, the Packers weren’t a bad run-blocking unit in ‘09. If they can pick up their pass protection even a little bit in order to give Rodgers more time, then the sky’s the limit for Green Bay in 2010.

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