With a gaping absence left in the dust by T.J. Lang's sudden departure, although many saw it coming, the Packers have some questions to answer residing with their offensive line. Just how they'll answer them remains to be seen.
If there's any consolation, it's that the Pro Bowl guard's decision was based solely around giving his family the best environment to grow up, including his son who is entering the first grade. Lang's commitment was to the future, not the team that housed him for the last eight seasons after drafting him in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
The only sustainable guards on the Packers roster that can prove as backups are Lucas Patrick and Don Barclay. Barclay was just re-signed to a $1.3 million dollar deal and Patrick — well, he has a handful of pre-season reps under his belt. The Packers do have tape on Patrick, but whether or not they feel he has earned the jump into the starting lineup is up in the air.
One, however, is out of the equation, and that is moving right tackle Bryan Bulaga inside to play the vacancy left by Lang at right guard.
A first round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, Bulaga has been the Packers right tackle for seven seasons and counting with the lone exception of missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL. Bulaga has become one of the more revered right tackles in the NFL, and unless the urgency becomes dire, it's difficult to see general manager Ted Thompson commandeering a position change for Bulaga.
The Packers do have another tackle waiting in the wing that could suffice at interior guard, and it's their second round selection from the 2016 NFL Draft, Jason Spriggs.
Spriggs was a four-year starter at the left tackle position at Indiana before venturing to Green Bay with plans to serve as a backup to either left tackle David Bakhtiari or Bulaga. Instead, he played in two games for the Packers in 2016.
One of those games was as a guard.
In late November, Spriggs was asked to play right guard in a game against the Washington Redskins that Lang missed and that Barclay ultimately couldn't continue playing in as Lang's back-up. When his shoulder injury soon caused Barclay to remove himself from the game, the practice reps that offensive line coach James Campen made Spriggs take earlier in the week paid off. Spriggs played 26 snaps at the position in a losing effort.
It's unlikely the Packers look into making a move for Spriggs along the interior, but he has shown the capability of understanding the position which former Packers general manager and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Ron Wolf called the easiest position to learn. Thompson has apparently adopted that philosophy, evidenced by his refusal to throw heaps of money at Lang, who hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2014.
There isn't any ruling out of the possibility that the Packers can draft Lang's replacement next month. Luckily for the Packers, they still have the same general manager now as they did in 2008 and 2009 when Sitton and Lang were both drafted in the fourth rounds respectively. Other notable late-round offensive line selections under Thompson include Jason Spitz (third), Tony Moll (fifth), Allen Barbre (fourth), J.C. Tretter (fourth) and Bakhtiari (fourth).
Offensive linemen selected between rounds three and five under Thompson since 2006 have started 73 of a possible 144 games in their rookie years combined.
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