GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers would be doing a disservice to themselves as well as Don Barclay if they don’t give the forgotten man of training camp every opportunity to win the starting berth at right tackle.
Barclay outplayed the starter, Marshall Newhouse, on Friday night in the exhibition opener against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field.
They split time by series in the first half before Newhouse replaced David Bakhtiari at left tackle for the first 18 snaps of the second half.
In all, Barkley played 30 snaps, all at right tackle, while Newhouse played 44, including 26 on the right side.
By subjective judgment, Barkley had 1½ minus plays not counting a fourth-and-1 penalty for a false start in which the blame could have been spread among three or four players.
Newhouse had seven minuses, including five at right tackle and two at left tackle.
It wasn’t that Newhouse was particularly ineffective. He was adequate, as he has been much of the time as a 31-game starter over the last two seasons.
It also wasn’t a case where Barclay performed exceptionally well. He was almost never exceptional a year ago, either, when he started the final six games at right tackle.
Barclay demonstrated anew that he just kind of knows how to play.
Until Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season in the intrasquad scrimmage with a torn knee, the Packers were trying to make Barclay a five-position backup. The coaches guessed that Derek Sherrod could get on the field and serve as the No. 3 tackle, and once JC Tretter suffered a broken leg in May that probably will end his season they had deep concerns about the paucity of depth at center and guard.
Ever the good soldier, Barclay remained calm during his fits of wayward shotgun snaps and did his best bouncing from spot to spot. Versatility looks to be his ticket to a lengthy career, but in roundabout fashion it might also brand him as a career backup.
Barclay played better than a career backup in 2012. In fact, his level of play at right tackle probably was no better and probably no worse than Newhouse’s was at left tackle.
The coaches backed Barclay off at center and guard last week. Now, considering the good things that guard Lane Taylor and handyman Greg Van Roten did against Arizona, they should just let Barclay stay put for the next three weeks so they’ll know for sure who is the best choice at right tackle.
Unfortunately, the Packers didn’t get a chance to see Barclay against towering Calais Campbell, the Cardinals’ elite defensive end. He did get a few snaps against rugged defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, and on his one pass-rush rep against old pro John Abraham kept him at bay.
Perhaps Barclay’s worst play came in the second series when he overran a back-side cutoff against Dockett, who helped on the tackle.
Newhouse got off to a bad start, failing to finish a block and enabling Dockett to stop James Starks. Then came five straight snaps against the long-limbed, athletic Campbell.
Three times Newhouse did his job, including a double-team block with Jermichael Finley in which Campbell was moved. But Newhouse was trashed by Campbell on another run (he assisted on the tackle), and then he put his head down and missed on a pass rush only to be saved from behind by T.J. Lang.
When the Cardinals began running stunts, Newhouse was sharp and then not so sharp. He also missed end Frostee Rucker, a strong old pro, on a running play.
Later, in one of the game’s key plays, Abraham beat Newhouse to the corner and in 2.7 seconds sacked Graham Harrell, who lost the fumble.
James Campen, the offensive line coach, indicated Thursday that Newhouse is making more of an effort to finish blocks. It wasn’t just coachspeak. To a degree, that has been noticeable this summer.
Throughout the off-season, Newhouse has been hearing that from McCarthy on down. The financial future for him and his family partially depends on the size of his next contract, and Newhouse knows that to be a core player in Green Bay he must play with greater violence and consistency.
Getting after people comes naturally for Barclay, and Bakhtiari is showing early signs of aggressiveness as well.
Barclay wasn’t blessed with Newhouse’s quick feet. He isn’t explosive or tall, and at 305 he’s 15 pounds lighter than his teammate.
He does possess enormous hands (10 7/8 inches), and they contribute to his bulldog style.
Barclay delivered an excellent drive block against Dockett. He also showed steady surge against Rucker and later linebacker Kenny Rowe.
When Barclay gets his hands inside, he has a habit of running his feet moving and getting push. He comes off low and with a flat back and is prideful enough not to get tossed aside very often.
Barclay needs work as a pass blocker. He can’t win easily ala Newhouse on the basis of God-given talent.
For two decades, the Packers have placed a premium on pass blocking in an offensive lineman. They still do, but McCarthy appears determined to run it better and more often to help the protection.
Right now, Barclay rates the edge over Newhouse in the run game.