Next Man Up: Packers Right Tackle
The 2014 NFL season was barely a quarter old before we saw its first significant injury. After colliding with a teammate last night in the second quarter, Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga collapsed holding his left knee, the same one that caused him to miss all of last season with an ACL injury.
The early news is somewhat promising; though he’s reportedly torn his MCL, the Packers don’t expect Bulaga to miss too much time. But if last night’s game is any indication, any length of absence by their starting right tackle will be harmful.
Bulaga earned the fourth-highest grade of any right tackle back in 2011; he allowed just one sack and two quarterbacks hits all season in pass protection, and also earned top marks for his run blocking. Unfortunately, that was also his last season without a major injury.
In 2012, Bulaga shook off some early-season struggles and was hitting a groove until a Week 9 fractured hip landed him on injured reserve. A training camp ACL tear then cost him all of 2013, and the Packers right tackles earned a collective -17.2 grade in his absence. Will Packers Next Man Up, Derrek Sherrod, fare any better this season?
Sherrod’s career has been a struggle after the Packers selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He played as a reserve his rookie season before a significant leg fracture sidelined him for nearly two full years. He returned to the field last November, but garnered only six snaps down the stretch. However, it seemed that a finally-healthy offseason did him well as he impressed on film this August. Splitting time between both tackle spots, he took the third-most snaps of any offensive lineman this preseason and earned a +2.5 grade thanks to reliable pass protection.
Unfortunately, those good vibes were quickly forgotten last night as Sherrod came in for Bulaga and made a mess of things for the Packers’ offense. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett beat him in spectacular fashion on back-to-back plays, first for a drive-ending fourth-down sack and then for a strip-sack that resulted in a safety. But it wasn’t just the Seahawks’ starters that Sherrod struggled with, as backup O’Brien Schofield tossed him aside to help thwart Aaron Rodgers’ two-point conversion attempt.
In the end, Sherrod earned a dreadful -6.4 grade in less than three quarters-worth of work. If he continues to struggle, the Packers have the option of moving T.J. Lang over. The starting right guard has a +0.5 grade in seven career starts at right tackle, though he had pass protection issues the last time he was there in 2012.
Ultimately, Sherrod looks like the best option the Packers have right now, so Green Bay may not have a choice but to hope he improves until Bulaga’s return.
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