GREEN BAY — If the Green Bay Packers want to feel better about themselves after an embarrassing 35-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, they ought to focus their attention on the left tackle spot.
A week after the San Diego Chargers made backups Herb Taylor and Andrew Datko look like turnstiles, starter Marshall Newhouse returned and put an end to all the shenanigans on quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.
After missing five practices and the Chargers game with a concussion, Newhouse returned to practice Monday, practiced again Tuesday and then started against the Browns. He played three series for a total of 17 plays and generally looked like someone who had not been out nine days.
“Far from it,” Newhouse said when asked if it was like riding a bike. “But it was good to shake off, I guess, what you would call rust. Just get your blood pumping, be in a game situation again; good to get back with the line and just try to get back into.”
The Packers have high expectations of Newhouse, who became a starter last year when Chad Clifton injured his hamstring. After Clifton was released in the off-season, Newhouse moved into the top spot on the depth chart and was expected to battle 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod for the starting job.
But Sherrod has been slow to recover from a broken leg and the job is all Newhouse’s.
Against the Browns, he wasn’t as sharp as he might be later in the season, but there were no whiffs, no missed assignments, no pressures and no worries for Rodgers. The worst thing he did was allow end Emmanuel Stephens around the corner on the Packers’ first possession, but Rodgers unloaded the ball before Stephens got close.
“I thought we played all right,” Newhouse said of the No. 1 offense. “Obviously, you want to score every time you touch the ball. But that’s what the preseason is for, to work out all the kinks. Overall, I think I did pretty good.”
Of his 17 snaps, Newhouse had to pass protect 10 times, taking on Stephens’ outside rush five times, picking up defensive tackle John Hughes on stunts and zone blitzes three times and stymieing end Marcus Benard twice. That’s not exactly a who’s who of pass rushers, but Newhouse did his job as expected.
In the running game, Newhouse was unable to bury a defender a couple of times and allow Alex Green to break a long run, but he did enough for Green to get 4 or more yards. Finishing blocks in the run game is something he’ll have to continue to work on with more practice snaps.
Newhouse said adjusting to the speed of the game after so much time off wasn’t an issue.
“I’m used to the speed,” he said. “It’s just going to be being more consistent on a full-game basis. But it’s not a giant jump. It’s not like coming off a year of being out of football. It was maybe a week.”
Newhouse suffered the concussion in the intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 3. He went through the concussion protocol and needed time to heal. He said he’s glad he was handled with caution.
“The brain is an important thing,” he said, noting his only other concussion was a mild one his rookie year. “This is not all there is. I don’t want to be struggling prematurely because I made a bad decision.”
Many happy returns: Coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that wide receiver Greg Jennings was close to being cleared from a concussion he suffered during the intrasquad scrimmage.
Jennings had been frustrated that it was taking so long for him to recover but apparently turned the corner over the last day or two. Teammates have said this was Jennings’ first concussion.
“Greg has advanced through the protocol process and potentially will be available for Sunday’s practice,” McCarthy said.
It is also possible that tight end Jermichael Finley (thigh) and running back John Kuhn (ankle) will be back this week, possibly as soon as Sunday, when the team returns to the practice field. Also, newly signed running back Cedric Benson will practice in pads for the first time.
Running back Brandon Saine (hamstring), out since injuring his leg Aug. 6, is probably another week away, McCarthy said.
Surgery complete: Linebacker Desmond Bishop had surgery on his right hamstring Friday morning and McCarthy said he was doing well.
No decision has been made on whether to place Bishop on injured reserve. The Packers probably are waiting to see if the players’ union will approve a rule this year that each team can bring back one player from injured reserve during the season.
Bishop injured his hamstring against the Chargers.
Soft underbelly: The No. 1 offensive line might have played well, but the No. 2s were no match for the Browns’ defense.
“The second offensive line needs to play better,” McCarthy said. “It did not grade out very well. I thought the first group graded out very well, but that was not the case with the second group.
“You talk about opportunity, there’s a lot of opportunity there. There are jobs to be won.”
The Packers have problems behind Newhouse with Taylor and Datko seeking to be the top backups. There is no word yet on whether Sherrod will return during training camp and it’s looking more likely he’ll miss the first six weeks of the regular season because he’s on the physically unable to perform list.
Special considerations: The performances by the offense and defense did not please McCarthy, but he thought the special teams were good.
Several players stood out in coverage, including Robert Francois, Sean Richardson and Otis Merrill.
Merrill also had a 60-yard kickoff return in the second quarter.
“They’re flying around,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got some young guys who have really improved from Year 1 to Year 2. I like the rookies; they’ve picked it up there.”