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Oh, what a fine O-line!

Time to get while the getting's good. As a former offensive lineman, opportunities to sing that unit's praises are too few and far between. It's not that some "good pub" isn't deserved much more than it's given, it's just that we in the media are much more inclined to write or talk about the pass throwers and catchers and the interceptors and sackers than those five guys up front.<p>

The fellas who play the so-called "skill" positions and more specifically what they do makes for better copy. Touchdowns scored and touchdowns prevented are a lot more glamorous than picking up the infamous T-E stunt flawlessly or working a scoop block to perfection. They're also easier to understand, both for the media and its consumers.

We can all appreciate the beauty of a touchdown pass but the beauty of an ugly 4-yard run, now that takes some doing.

The team, Brett Favre, and Ahman Green, have all performed well this season, and that's due in large measure to the blocks being thrown by Chad Clifton, Mike Wahle, Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera and Mark Tauscher.

Clifton is the most gifted of the group physically. He's 6-foot-5, 327 pounds, and it's not a sloppy 327 pounds. Those kinds of dimensions are not rare in today's NFL, but having excellent "feet" and athletic ability to go along with them is. Despite his size, Chad is light enough on his feet to slide in front of the speediest pass rushers, whether they go inside, outside, or somewhere in between.

Another thing that seperates him from the crowd is his technique. It's constant. It doesn't vary from play to play. If a defender is going to beat Clifton, he'll have to beat Chad's best, and that's a tall order.

Mike Wahle, Clifton's next door neighbor, is another fine athlete. As a matter of fact, he entered the Naval Academy as a wide receiver and grew into a 6-foot-6, 310-pound guard. In layman's terms, he's real big and he can move real fast. Mike struggled some at left tackle last season but in my humble opinion, it wasn't so much the opposition as it was him. Mike, who has tools galore, just needed to get more consistency in what he did – in his own techniques. Well, he's done that this season and is well on his way to becoming a real good left guard.

Wahle also does a fine job of hitting on the run. The Packers take advantage of his athletic ability by pulling him a lot.

Mike Flanagan isn't the Packers starting pivot because Frank Winters can't play any more. Far from it. Flanagan is the starter because he's a heckuva center in his own right. I've long felt that quickness was as important, if not more so, than any other commodity at that position and Mike has it in abundance. And he has it in double-threat fashion, both in his feet, which is what you'd expect, and in his hands, which is somewhat unusual. Mike gets his hands on and underneath people so quickly, he renders defenders defenseless. Stops 'em before they can get going. Flanagan's also very mobile and that allows him to pull and run better than most who play the position.

Right guard Marco Rivera is as close to an old school throwback type player as you can get. He just puts on his work gloves and gives you a solid effort game in and game out. Solid enough that the Packers felt he was their best offensive lineman last season and deserved Pro Bowl consideration. Marco's playing the same way this year because he's adept at all phases of the game. He can pass protect, pull, and create movement at the point of attack. I think his hole card is a healthy helping of football smarts. He's the type of player who knows that if I step this way, the defender will react this way, and that's when I'll block him out of the way.

Your typical second year offensive lineman who was drafted in the 7th round is just now hoping to make his way off the practice squad, but not Mark Tauscher. He's in his second year as a full-fledged starter at right tackle and is playing in front of Earl Dotson no less. Both ends of that equation speak volumes as to what Tauscher brings to the Packer party.

In this, still just his sophomore year in the NFL, Mark is making things happen. The year of experience and the confidence that goes with it has taken Tauscher's game to another level.

A level yours truly didn't anticipate because yours truly didn't appreciate Mark's athletic ability. 320 pounds is a lot on a 6-foot-3 frame and when you look at Mark you don't think "athlete" but you also have another think coming.

He's got good short area quickness, can move his feet, and I think his back, butt, and legs are incredibly strong and that allows a base and a half from which to block. He's also blessed in those mystical areas that you can't measure, areas like balance.

Toss in a blue collar work ethic and Big Ten intelligence (I'm prejudiced of course) and you've got a real keeper.

The Packers offensive line, if it's what's up front that counts, you can count on it.

Note: Larry McCarren's column appeared in the Oct. 20, 2001 issue of Packer Report. McCarren, a longtime center who was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame, also is sports director for WFRV-TV in Green Bay and an analyst on the Packer Radio Network.


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