Camp Preview: Battle at OL

Regardless of Daryn Colledge's future, a big battle looms at left guard. T.J. Lang and Nick McDonald, who have been working out together all offseason, are the front-runners if College departs in free agency.

Despite some occasional rough patches, Daryn Colledge has been a fixture in the Green Bay Packers' starting lineup since being a second-round pick in 2006.

Colledge, however, will be an unrestricted free agent when the lockout ends. The Packers made almost no effort to re-sign him during the season, and while that doesn't necessarily mean they're moving in another direction, it's a sign that, at the very least, it will be an open competition at left guard.

Colledge, finally able to focus solely on left guard after being the emergency left tackle through his first four years in the league, had his best season as a pro with a career-low three sacks allowed.

"I think there's always stuff that you're going to look back on and say, ‘I want to do that better next year,'" Colledge told Packer Report last week. "But it was my first year that I've had an opportunity to play nothing but guard and I played good football I felt like. I played my best football in the playoffs when we needed it. I think the coaches agree with that. It was my best time. Hopefully I can continue on that trend. I've always said that if I could play one position for a whole year, I could probably do it better than playing three or four different positions. For me, it's all about staying on that trend and playing one position and getting as good as you can at it. This is a tough business and the guys that play across from us are great players. You need guys that can stay healthy and guys that can perfect the job they do. It's hard when you've got to float around."

If Colledge departs, third-year pro T.J. Lang and second-year player Nick McDonald are the stated front-runners. The competition will begin in earnest with the start of training camp but has been going on for a couple months as Lang, McDonald and outside linebacker Frank Zombo have been working out together near their homes in suburban Detroit.

Lang started three games at the tackle slots as a rookie but wrist surgery following the season kept him out of the offseason practices. That put him behind, and his challenge to Colledge and right tackle Mark Tauscher never got off the ground. He played extensively in just one game, the second half of the Dec. 12 game at Detroit in place of an injured Colledge and ineffective Jason Spitz.

"There were a few points in the season where it was bugging me a little bit but it wasn't hurting that bad where I felt like I wasn't able to really use it as much as I wanted to," Lang told Packer Report recently. "I think the biggest thing for me last year was just missing the whole offseason — the lifting aspect and the football work. That really set me back going into camp. I don't think I was in the best football shape after missing the offseason to really compete for a job. As the season went along, the better I started feeling. Obviously, I didn't get as much playing time as my rookie year because most of the guys were able to stay healthy, which was good. I feel great now. I've been doing everything I can to make it feel better and it feels good. I feel healthy, and that's exciting for me."

As for McDonald, the coaches saw something in him that wasn't apparent during training camp, when he frequently was overmatched by the Packers' veteran defensive linemen. An All-American left tackle at Division II Grand Valley State, he came on strong during the season as he became more sure of himself against elite competition. Coach Mike McCarthy sang his praises in a December interview, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "That kid's going to be a good player. I think Nick McDonald will be on my team for a long time. I think that kid's coming fast."


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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.


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