Marshall Newhouse

One of the biggest questions the Green Bay Packers have to answer this offseason is who will protect Aaron Rodgers blind side in 2012.

The venerable Chad Clifton has one year left on his contract, but will be 36 when the season begins and his body showed signs of breaking down in 2011. Clifton only managed to start six games in 2011. Although it’s not a foregone conclusion, it seems fairly likely the Packers will end up releasing the veteran to save some salary cap space.

If that happens, the team will turn the position over to either Marshall Newhouse, Bryan Bulaga or Derek Sherrod.

Newhouse started 13 games for the Packers in 2011, including 10 at left tackle. He improved as the season went on, but was easily the offensive line’s weakest link. He gave up 10.5 sacks, which was the most on the team and had major problems with elite pass rushers.

Bulaga played left tackle in college, but has primarily played right tackle thus far in his pro career. He’s developed into a solid player, particularly in the running game, but has been fairly average in passing protection. The Iowa product gave up the second-most pressures in 2011.

That brings us to last year’s first-round pick Derek Sherrod, who is a major question mark. Sherrod was drafted as the Packers left tackle of the future and was given a shot to win the starting left guard job in training camp. He was easily outplayed by T.J. Lang in that competition, but managed to see action in five games at left tackle as blowouts and injuries piled up. Unfortunately, Sherrod broke two bones in week 15. Although the Packers clearly view him as a left tackle, there’s a question when he’ll even be able to return to action.

Although the coaching staff has surprised us before, our bet is on Newhouse to open the season as the starter while the team waits for Sherrod to be ready. The former fifth-rounder will improve with the aid of the team’s offseason program and another training camp. Meanwhile, the right tackle position remains solid with Bulaga and the team has Sherrod waiting in the wings, whenever he returns.