Inside Champs: Offensive Line

We continue our positional look at the Packers' offseason roster with a greatly improved performance from the offensive line. Chad Clifton was as good as ever down the stretch and Josh Sitton and Scott Wells are real anchors.

Offensive line

Starters: LT Chad Clifton, LG Daryn Colledge (unrestricted free agent), C Scott Wells, RG Josh Sitton, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups: T/G T.J. Lang, G/C Evan Dietrich-Smith, G/C Jason Spitz (unrestricted free agent), T Mark Tauscher (injured reserve), T/G Marshall Newhouse (injured reserve), G/C Nick McDonald, T Chris Campbell (practice squad), G Adrian Battles (practice squad).

Comment: Green Bay yielded 38 sacks, tied for the 11th-most in the league, and tied for 21st in quarterback hits allowed (67). Both were huge improvements over 2009, when the Packers gave up the most sacks (51) and tied for eighth-most quarterback hits (93). There's no doubt that Aaron Rodgers' improved time clock in the pocket played a role in that. Still, given the Packers' lack of a running game after Ryan Grant went down, a big tip of the cap has to go up front.

Clifton, who was re-signed through 2012 last offseason, was selected for his second Pro Bowl by starting all 16 games for the first time since 2007. It was a surprising development after Clifton was benched for the second half of the Week 2 game against Buffalo because he "didn't look healthy" to Mike McCarthy and the rest of the coaches. According to STATS, Clifton gave up a career-high 8.5 sacks — far more than the 3.75 that were attributed to him in 12 games in 2009. But for the first time since 2003, he was not flagged for holding. He was just about dominant down the stretch with superlative performances against a gauntlet of standout pass-rushers during the six-game run to the championship.

Bulaga started the final 12 regular-season games after Tauscher was lost for the season after four games because of an injured shoulder. He had his rough moments — his blown blitz protection led to Rodgers' interception in overtime at Washington, for instance — but he really tightened up his game down the stretch. In all, he gave up a team-high 11 sacks and his nine penalties led the offense.

On the inside, Wells is one of the steadiest centers in the business. Wells, who turned 30 in January, is fine physically but absolutely on top of his game mentally, pairing with Rodgers to diagnose practically every blitz thrown at them. Wells and Sitton were the team's best linemen, with Sitton banging on the Pro Bowl door. Officially, Sitton — already the team's best run-blocker — didn't allow a single sack all season and was penalized three times. Colledge was greatly improved, as well, cutting his sacks from 8.75 to three.

Spitz's run in Green Bay probably is over and Tauscher seems unlikely to return, as well.

What's interesting: Who will start at left guard in 2011? Colledge figures to be an unrestricted free agent when the collective bargaining agreement is straightened out. Assuming Colledge returns, he won't have a starting job handed to him. That's nothing new. Who will be the challenger in 2011? Lang, who failed to mount a challenge last summer because of offseason wrist surgery? McDonald, the former Division II player who the coaches love but was mostly horrendous last summer? A draft pick? It's a big decision for the coaches, who probably would rather have a two-man race than a three-man derby. There just are not enough reps for three guys, especially if part or all of the offseason is lost to a lockout.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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