PHOENIX – Mike McCarthy can’t say whether 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod will able to compete for a job this year, and he won’t say whether he’s mulling the idea of shifting Bryan Bulaga to left tackle.
But the Green Bay Packers coach made this point crystal clear: He’s going to demand better performance from the offensive line, especially the left side of the line and the center position.
McCarthy didn’t raise his voice during Wednesday morning’s NFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel, but he certainly put left tackle Marshall Newhouse, left guard T.J. Lang and center Evan Dietrich-Smith on notice that he expects them to play better than they did last season, when the quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times and the running game ranked 20th in the league in rushing per game (106.4) and 22nd in yards per attempt (3.9).
“The one thing about Marshall (when) you go back through the grades, Marshall played OK,” McCarthy said of Newhouse, who took over as the starting left tackle during veteran Chad Clifton’s injury-plagued 2011 season and started all 18 games (including playoffs) last year.
“We need some improvement from the left side of our line. If you’re breaking down the line as a whole, our left side and the center position, we need improvement there. I thought (right guard) Josh Sitton probably had his best year. And frankly, Bulaga and (undrafted rookie Don) Barclay at right tackle with Josh was, we felt, a good combination. We need to get the left side to play better.”
That response was to a question about the idea of shifting Bulaga to left tackle, especially in light of Barclay’s surprisingly solid play in the final six weeks of the season. Barclay certainly had his growing pains, but after Bulaga went down with a season-ending hip injury on Nov. 4 and Lang initially shifted to right tackle, Barclay did a passable job at the position.
McCarthy said he was hopeful that Bulaga would be cleared for the offseason program, which begins April 15.
The future of Sherrod, who suffered a broken leg at Kansas City on Dec. 18, 2011 and hasn’t played since, isn’t as clear. Sherrod missed the entire offseason last year, opened the year on the physically unable to perform list and was never activated.
“We’ve just got to get him out of this medical category,” McCarthy said. “Derek’s (at Lambeau Field) every day. There’s not a day that I have not walked through the training room, which I do every single day, and he’s either there or in the weight room training. He feels better than he ever has. He’s really responded to the rehab. I’m just hopeful he can get out there and play.”
McCarthy said he liked what he saw from Dietrich-Smith at times after the decision to bench veteran center Jeff Saturday with two games left in the regular season, but that Dietrich-Smith, who is a restricted free agent and received the low $1.323 million tender, has to improve, too.
“I felt the way we finished the season, he had segments of games that he didn’t play as well as he should have,” McCarthy said. “But I felt his overall work was definitely something that we can build with and go with. We brought a high tempo to the position. I was very pleased with the way Evan played.
“Even going through our studies, we had a particular study with our offensive line that broke it down into four groups: the group that started the season, the group after Bulaga was hurt, (the group with) Lang (at right tackle) and Dietrich at guard, and then the last group. The production of the last group we felt performed the best, and that’s a credit to Dietrich(-Smith).”
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