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Rodgers hoping for continuity on offensive line

The SportsXchange

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers has started 96 games at quarterback, earned NFL MVP honors, led his team to a Super Bowl title and been named MVP of that big game.

For all of Rodgers' service and accomplishments, what has oddly eluded the Green Bay Packers since he assumed the starting reins at the beginning of the 2008 season is having the same offensive line intact for an entire season.

When Green Bay opens the 2014 season in prime time Sept. 4 at reigning league champion Seattle, the Packers will trot out a starting line that has again been retooled from the previous season.

The only locks at this point, three months from opening day, would appear to be a trio of starting holdovers: David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Josh Sitton at left guard and T.J. Lang at right guard.

Bryan Bulaga is back at his onetime starting spot at right tackle, but the fifth-year pro doesn't have as strong of a hold on the job as many would suspect. Bulaga missed all of last season because of a knee injury, paving the way for then-rookie Bakhtiari to emerge in what was intended to be Bulaga's spot at left tackle and young prospect Don Barclay to settle in at right tackle.

Just because Bulaga is healthy again and has been able to go without limitations in the ongoing organized team activities doesn't mean Barclay, a third-year player, is the odd man out.

"Donnie Barclay, to me, is a starting football player," coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday as the Packers started their second week of OTA practices. "He's earned the opportunity to compete for a starting position. Him and Bryan will compete on the right side. We've got to make sure that we have as much competition as we possibly can."

While Bulaga and Barclay wage one position battle the next few months, another showdown also is under way. This one has perhaps the biggest impact on the continued exploits by Rodgers.

"The center is a very vital position to every offense," Rodgers said.

No way Rodgers could have predicted then that playing multiple years with the same center -- as the case was with the dependable Scott Wells from 2008 to 2011 -- would be the exception rather than the rule in his celebrated starting tenure thus far.

The chain reaction of the Packers not re-signing Wells as a free agent and letting him sign with the St. Louis Rams in the 2012 offseason is a revolving door of starting centers. The baton was passed from Wells to Jeff Saturday in 2012 to Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2013 to presumably JC Tretter going into next season.

Tretter has been No. 1 on the depth chart in the OTAs and has the endorsement of not only McCarthy but the all-important man who receives the football from the center.

"It's about getting on the same page with protection stuff, how I like the snaps in the shotgun and how I like the rhythm of our offense," Rodgers said. "Those guys are smart guys. JC has been doing a nice job. He's a really bright guy; he gets it from an intelligent standpoint. But, nothing, I don't think, is going to be decided there or figured out as far as a rhythm until we get on the field and in pads, in training camp especially."

McCarthy said the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Tretter, who is a full year removed from a leg injury that wound up costing him his entire rookie season, is "progressing very nicely."

"He's a powerful young man, really strong hands, extremely intelligent," McCarthy said of Tretter, a fourth-round draft pick out of Cornell who is making the conversion from left tackle.

McCarthy, though, is willing to take the rest of the spring and at least the early part of training camp in mid-summer to let the derby play out for who replaces Dietrich-Smith, a free agent who escaped to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March. Tretter's challengers are first-year player Garth Gerhart and Corey Linsley, a fifth-round draft pick this year.

"Evan (was) a guy who made some strides and played really well (last season), I thought that he was going to be the guy of the future, but we went in a different direction," Rodgers said. "And, now, we've got to get one of these young guys ready, and hopefully we can get a guy who can stick for five or six years (as the starter). I think as a quarterback you really appreciate when you can have some continuity there and some consistency as far as the same guy being there for multiple years.

"Anybody who plays that spot has the luxury of playing with two of the smartest guys on our football team on either side of him in T.J. and Josh. But I'm confident one of those guys will emerge and step up and be ready to play come Week 1."
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