GREEN BAY, Wis. — Marshall Newhouse made the necessary performance jump from his first to second season that coach Mike McCarthy deems crucial in evaluating a player’s future.
If Newhouse can tighten his game further in the coming off-season, the Green Bay Packers could be set at tackle for years to come.
“I think I’ve established myself as someone they can trust,” Newhouse said Friday. “Someone that knows how to work and is a character guy and wants to be here and loves to play football.
“I feel like I belong here, even if other people don’t.”
Newhouse has taken his share of abuse from fans, TV people and scouts alike for the up-and-down tenor of his play. Even his position coach, James Campen, acknowledges that.
“He’s been inconsistent,” said Campen. “He’s had plays where he’s looked poor. But him being dominated? No.”
Campen said the 23-year-old Newhouse had shown enough in his 78.1 percent playing time at three positions to be considered a starter now and a strong candidate to become one in 2012 and beyond. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who has helped tutor the line on a daily basis since July, agreed.
“He’s been versatile, dependable, available,” said Philbin. “He’s had his good games and he’s had a couple games where we wish he had played better. He’s made a good contribution to the ballclub. I think he’s held his own.”
Newhouse, a fifth-round draft choice in 2010 from Texas Christian, didn’t play a snap as a rookie. After not playing in the first two games, he has started nine games at left tackle for injured Chad Clifton and two games at right tackle for injured Bryan Bulaga.
In all, Newhouse has played 550 snaps at left tackle, 145 at right tackle and 15 at right guard. In the last 12 games, his playing time is 90 percent.
Philbin shudders to think where the Packers would have been if Newhouse hadn’t changed his body around dramatically during the lockout and, as a result, become qualified to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blindside.
Newhouse expressed pride in his performance. He also is well aware that he’s not anywhere near a finished product.
“My main focus, as soon as my number was called, was to play as hard as I could and the other stuff would eventually take care of itself,” he said. “I’m still young. I know I’m going to keep getting better. The bottom line is, I’ve got to do better.”
It’s possible that no tackle in the National Football League has had to face such a murderer’s row of pass rushers. After meeting Denver’s Von Miller as a right tackle, Newhouse has gone against Minnesota’s Jared Allen twice, San Diego’s Antwan Barnes, the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul and Kansas City’s Tamba Hali as a left tackle.
Those five players, who have 651/2 sacks, rank among the NFL’s top 10 in that statistic.
Newhouse also was matched against Detroit’s Kyle Vanden Bosch and Tampa Bay’s Adrian Clayborn, who have combined for 151/2 sacks.
At Chicago, he played against Julius Peppers (10 sacks) and Israel Idonije. Oakland’s Kamerion Wimbley (seven) rushed against him, too.
“I don’t know if I could put one above the rest,” said Newhouse. “All those guys on that list are pretty good.”
Newhouse has been charged with eight full sacks and two half sacks for a total of nine, which is about half of the 19 assigned individually to linemen.
“You have certain standards that you want to enforce,” said Philbin. “But, at times, you’ve got to look at the level of competition.
“Do we want every offensive lineman to have nine sacks? No, I think that’s too many. But usually those are the best guys in football he’s going against. I don’t think he’s perfect, but he’s been competitive.”
Probably Newhouse’ poorest showings were against Allen in Minnesota, Pierre-Paul in New York and Clayborn in the first half in Tampa. By the same token, two of his best games were against Vanden Bosch in Detroit and veteran James Hall of St. Louis at Lambeau Field.
“There are games I wish I had played better,” Newhouse said. “I never felt terrible (afterward), no. I have good teammates and trust my ability. I go out there and give my all.”
The Packers’ unofficial record for sacks allowed in a season over the last two decades was right tackle Tony Mandarich’s 121/2 in 16 games in 1990.
Mike Wahle was benched after six starts at left tackle in 2000 after giving up five sacks. Right tackle Allen Barbre was benched in ‘09 after giving up five sacks in 535 snaps (seven starts). As a rookie in ‘09, T.J. Lang allowed five sacks in 331 snaps (three starts).
Last season, Clifton yielded a career-high eight sacks in 20 starts and Bulaga gave up 61/2 in 16.
In 1998, left tackle Ross Verba allowed nine in 17 starts. In ‘93, right tackle Tootie Robbins gave up 61/2 in 11 starts.
“Now he’s had to start and he has learned from his experiences,” said Campen. “He doesn’t get beat on the same rushes. It’s not a carryover. He’s a very, very smart player.”
Newhouse scored 32 on the Wonderlic intelligence test at the scouting combine. He also led all offensive linemen in the combine three-cone drill with a time of 7.4 seconds, which demonstrated just how well he could move.
Philbin likes Newhouse’s feet, change of direction, explosion out of his stance and recovery skills. He has three false-start penalties and no holds.
Clearly, there’s a major difference between the way Newhouse and Clifton pass block.
Conversely, Newhouse probably is more effective in the running game, both on the back side and at the point of attack.
Newhouse ranks second on the unit in “bad” runs with 11 but has shown improvement with just 21/2 in the last five games.
Clifton returned to practice this week on a limited basis and is expected to do more next week. It’s possible McCarthy will turn to Clifton when he’s ready, which presumably would leave Newhouse in the mix at right tackle or on the bench.
“I don’t know how they’re going to treat it,” said Newhouse. “I’m kind of indifferent about it. If anything, I’m excited he’s getting healthy and getting ready to be back.
“It makes it easier that I like the guy. When it comes down to it, it’s a business and you’ve got to be cut-throat when you have to be. But I’m not that kind of person. Winning games is of the utmost importance.”