Lombardi: Line key to success on offense

There is no more important position on an offensive football team than the offensive line. In fact, I think those five guys dictate the success of the whole team. Quarterbacks are the leaders and without a good one, a team can struggle, but I have seen many teams with average quarterbacks succeed because they have a superior offensive line.

One of the challenges with the offensive line is that it must play as a unit. You must have (at least) five guys who live and breathe as one. My grandfather called teamwork, "Coordinated Efficiency" and there is no greater example of that than the O-line.

I bring this all up because chief among the challenges for the home team this up coming season is the offensive line. Losing Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera to free agency is a tough blow and it will be hard to replace these two Pro Bowl-caliber players. Unfortunately, the Packers had no choice but to let one if not both of them go. There was no way that the Packers could match the money they commanded on the open market.

Their stand-ins are still unknown, but a few of the candidates are Grey Ruegamer and veteran free agents Adrian Klemm and Matt O'Dwyer. The Pack has a handful of rookies and second-year guys who play guard on their roster, but these guys are the front runners heading into camp. One, or more, of those young guys may surprise, but don't count on it.

Ruegamer showed that he can hold his own when he subbed for Mike Flanagan last year. Klemm is a six-year veteran and O'Dwyer had been in the league for 11 years. These guys all know what it takes to play the position, but ability and talent is not the most important quality needed to play on the offensive line. It goes back to that sense of teamwork and coordination mentioned earlier.

There have been injuries over the past few years, Flanagan last year and thanks to Warren Sapp, Chad Clifton missed part of the 2003 season. By and large Flanagan, Clifton, Rivera, Wahle and Mark Tauscher had played together for a number of years. That level of intimacy and closeness is hard to replicate. That is one of the reasons that Brett Favre has been sacked fewer times than in any time in his career. That is why Ahman Green and the running game have vaulted to the top of the league in effectiveness.

I do not doubt that the Packers can plug in some players with some talent into those vacant guard spots. What worries me is whether those two new guys will develop the chemistry with the other fellas to insure that Favre stays off his back and propel the running game back to its 2003 level after slumping a little last year. If anyone can get it done, Larry Beightol, the offensive line coach can. He is regarded as one of the best in the business and is directly responsible for the excellent development of that position. The offensive line is the engine that makes things go. No other move this off-season causes me so much anxiety as trying to patch it up. Imagine what it does to the Head Coach who is an old lineman himself. Without those five guys working as one, there is a great chance the offense struggles and if that happens, the team struggles.

If you head out to training camp next month, take some time away from the superstars and pay extra attention to the big bodies butting heads. On their shoulders rides the season.

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