Like everyone else who wears purple for pay and/or passion, Brandon Fusco got a kick out of watching the Cardinals maul the Packers 38-8 on Sunday.
But you will have to excuse Fusco for not being overjoyed by the fiasco that unfolded at left tackle. Or the fact that Don Barclay’s woeful play as an emergency starter that day is the primary reason the health of the Green Bay offensive line is one of the bigger story lines heading into Sunday night’s winner-take-all NFC North battle against the Vikings at Lambeau Field.
“That was tough to see,” Fusco, the Vikings left guard, said of Barclay, who gave up four of Arizona’s nine sacks and also was penalized three times. “You don’t like to see anybody struggle like that, especially when it’s a friend.”
With left tackle David Bakhtiari’s 50-game starting streak ended because of an ankle injury, the Packers turned Aaron Rodgers’ primary blindside protection over to Barclay, a four-year utility man whose 22 NFL starts included none at left tackle. His starting debut at the position came against Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell.
To most people outside of Wisconsin and Packer Nation, Barclay is an unknown backup. A faceless, 6-4, 305-pound next-man-up who last week got his quarterback knocked down. A lot.
To Fusco, well, let him describe it.
“It’s not a story everyone can tell in the NFL,” Fusco said. “It’s pretty cool, too. We grew up five houses apart just outside of Pittsburgh. We hung out all the time. We were best friends growing up. Rode the same bus to school. Were Steeler fans together. You name it.”
Sunday, they will meet at Lambeau Field on opposite sides of a 110-game NFL rivalry. Fusco will start at left guard for the Vikings. As for Barclay, there’s a 50-50 chance he will have to start again. Bakhtiari returned to practice Friday, but he was limited and listed as questionable.
The Vikings and their rejuvenated pass rush would prefer facing Barclay. Just ask Freeney, who beat Barclay for three sacks, including a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
“I can definitely feel for [Barclay],” said Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, who gave up Freeney’s strip sack that ended the Vikings’ 23-20 loss at Arizona on Dec. 10. “It’s hard enough playing left tackle in this league when you practice it every day, let alone having to step in like he did Sunday.”
Barclay wasn’t the only concern on the Green Bay offensive line last week. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga left because of an ankle injury. Normally, Barclay steps in for Bulaga, but the Packers had to use Josh Walker. When Walker failed quickly, he was benched in favor of J.C. Tretter, Green Bay’s fourth-string right tackle.
All five of the starting Packers linemen were limited in practice this week. All but Bakhtiari are listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
The Packers could try Bulaga to left tackle if necessary, but that’s not something they have done this year. Barclay played left tackle for 30 snaps in the second Lions game and the final 10 snaps against Oakland before last week’s start.
Barclay and Fusco grew up in Harmony, Pa., a suburb north of Pittsburgh. They went to Seneca Valley High School, one of the biggest schools in the state.
“Don played left tackle, I played left guard,” Fusco said. “The kid is a good player, an athletic guy who can handle left tackle. He’ll bounce back, but not against our guys if they have a field day going.”
With two future NFL players manning the left side of the line, the Seneca Valley Raiders must have been something special, eh?
“We went 1-9 both years we were on varsity together,” Fusco said. “We scored a lot of points, but we gave up a lot of points.”
Fusco was a year older. He went to nearby Division II Slippery Rock. The Vikings drafted him in the sixth round in 2011.
Barclay went to West Virginia and signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
“In 2012, our high school coaches [Ron Butschle and Jim Lucot] came to Lambeau and we all got a picture together on the field,” Fusco said. “As far as I know, we’re the only two from Seneca Valley to make it to the NFL. And here we are in a rivalry like this.
“I wish him all the best, but I hope we win. It’s getting old watching the Packers win.”