Position preview: Offensive line

Middle of line will be tested early and often

The Green Bay Packers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past six seasons, mainly because the line has been kept intact. But with guards Mike Wahle (Carolina) and Marco Rivera (Dallas) no longer in the picture, the middle of line will be tested often by opposing defenses.

Grey Ruegamer is in line to become the starting right guard in place of Rivera. Free agent Adrian Klemm (New England) has the inside track for the starting job at left guard.

Veteran right guard Matt O'Dwyer, signed six days after Ruegamer re-signed with the Packers in March, will be in the mix to start at right guard. He may even start ahead of Ruegamer with a solid performance in training camp. It was assumed that O'Dwyer, with 105 starts, would be the starter, especially considering that the Packers regarded Ruegamer as a better center than guard. But O'Dwyer is new to the system, and Ruegamer has surprised offensive line coach Larry Beightol with his performance at guard this off-season.

"It's between Ruegamer and O'Dwyer," Beightol said. "O'Dwyer is extremely strong and physical. He brings what Marco brought? Will he be as good as Marco? The jury's out."

While Klemm is the favorite to start at left guard, he will get a strong push from Steve Morley, who played in NFL Europe this spring. Morley was signed as a free agent by the Packers last season. He took most of the snaps at left guard in place of the injured Wahle (knee) during the first three weeks of training camp last year and played well. He was on the roster last year but not activated for any games.

Tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are returning for their seventh season in Green Bay. Both only seem to get better with each season. Brad Bedell is expected to back up Clifton on the left side and Kevin Barry will play behind Tauscher on the right side.

Mike Flanagan has recovered from knee surgery that caused him to miss three-fourths of the 2004 season. Flanagan is entering his 10th season, and the line's success this year may depend on how he gels with the new guards. The Packers drafted Junius Coston to compete against backup center Scott Wells.

Projected starters: Chad Clifton (LOT), Adrian Klemm (LG), Mike Flanagan (C), Grey Ruegamer (RG), Mark Tauscher (RT)
This will be the starting five unless O'Dwyer out-plays Ruegamer in training camp.

Projected reserves: Brad Bedell (LOT), Steve Morley (LG), Scott Wells (C), Matt O'Dwyer (RG), Kevin Barry (ROT)
Wells is the heir apparent to Flanagan. Barry can be used at right tackle if the Packers decide to move Tauscher to right guard. Bedell is Clifton's backup at left tackle.

On the bubble: Junius Coston (C), Will Whitticker (G), Brennan Curtin (T), Atlas Herrion (G), Chris White (G), Joe Hayes (G), Joe Quinn (G)
Coston and Whitticker are destined for the practice squad unless they show enough in camp. If that happens, the Packers may release one or more veteran linemen, like O'Dwyer or Klemm, to make room for the rookie draft picks. It's do or get cut for Brennan, who was on injured reserve all of last season. Herrion practiced at guard with the first team offense at times during the June minicamp and could be a surprise to make the roster.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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