Monday report: The left tackle conundrum « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Monday report: The left tackle conundrum

Conundrums are a pain in the you-know-what for football teams. They wreck the “keep it simple, stupid” approach that most thrive on.

We at OBOD, however, love conundrums. They give us a chance to come down on one side or another of an important Green Bay Packers-related issue and, of course, stir the pot – something we happen to think we’re pretty good at.

That said, this current Packers conundrum is a doozy even by our lofty standards: What, exactly, should Green Bay do with its left tackle situation?

Through roughly six quarters of play in 2010, mainstay Chad Clifton hasn’t been good at all. His bulky knee has been a major reason for that and some are suggesting that age has also finally caught up to the 34-year old, 11th-year warrior (not a term I use lightly, either). Clifton was pulled from Sunday’s blowout win over Buffalo during the second quarer, head coach Mike McCarthy said, because he felt Clifton’s knee simply was not right.

In his place stepped rookie Bryan Bulaga. The man many expect to take over for Clifton sooner rather than later got his first taste of regular season action. Outside of one false start call – looking like Cliffy already with that one – Bulaga was rather good. He did a nice job in pass protection and the team seemed to run the ball better with Bulaga in the game, although the running game still wasn’t very good. Perhaps just as importantly, he didn’t seem overwhelmed by any of it (well, it was the Bills).

That’s led some to suggest that Bulaga’s time is now, that he should replace Clifton as the starter going forward. McCarthy weighed in Monday, saying that when Clifton is healthy, he’ll return to the starting lineup.

After giving it some serious consideration, I have to say I agree with McCarthy. If Clifton’s 100 percent, it’s his job. I’m sorry, but there’s just something about playing the entire season with a rookie left tackle – solid performance versus Buffalo or no – that scares me to death.

Maybe that’s because I’ve checked out the Packers schedule. Over the next seven weeks, Green Bay faces some seriously talented pass rushes:

  • Chicago – Julius Peppers in a nationally televised game. These are the only games he shows up for.
  • Detroit – Much improved in that department. Kyle Vanden Bosch isn’t done yet and has a ton of veteran know-how.
  • Washington – Despite losing to Houston, that defense bashed Matt Schaub around all day.
  • Miami – We all saw what that group did to Favre, right?
  • Minnesota – Jared Allen. Enough said.
  • New York Jets – You don’t think Rex Ryan is going to collapse things Bulaga’s way?
  • Dallas – DeMarcus Ware. Uh-oh.

Now, this is not to suggest Bulaga would be eaten alive every single time out, because I really don’t think that’s the case. He’s extremely talented and should be able to hold down the fort for a brief stretch while Clifton’s knee gets right. In time, he’ll likely become more than adequate at manning the left tackle spot and, hopefully, he can do just that for, oh, the next decade-plus.

Key words in that last graph: “A brief stretch” and “in time.”

Bulaga’s time has not come yet. 

Are you sure that a rookie who, according to most draft experts, struggled with speed rushers will be able to survive that seven-game stretch without at least a few wretched performances? What about the rest of the season? And if he can’t survive, can Aaron Rodgers? Remember, it only takes one whiff by an outmatched lineman for it to be all over.

If Bulaga plays, it should only be because Clifton’s knee is still too bothersome to go on. While I’m supporting Clifton, I’m not supporting him at anything less than 100 percent. And by “100 percent”, I mean he has to be able to practice all three days. Anything less is simply not good enough. But, when he’s healthy, he deserves one more chance. That’s not because of his status or lofty 2010 salary, either.

It’s because of his considerable knowledge of the position. Clifton has never been the most talented left tackle in the league, by any stretch, but like his running mate on the right side – Mark Tauscher – Clifton has excelled at the position because of smarts and toughness. He may be at or approaching AARP status for an NFL player and he may be held together by duct tape and chicken wire, as I’ve long suggested, but he almost always makes sure the quarterback makes it through unscathed. In a season with Super Bowl aspirations, that’s the type of player I want covering the blindside.

The playing time Bulaga sees while Clifton heals up – unknown as of now, but it sure sounds like he’ll draw Peppers next Monday – will be extremely valuable for him moving forward.

But I’m not ready to count Clifton out yet. With everything he’s been able to bounce back from, it seems silly to bet against him.

-Chris Lempesis

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