Breaking down the offense

The headlines for the most part this off-season have ranged from bad to worse.

Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera signed with Dallas.

Pro Bowl-caliber guard Mike Wahle was released and signed with Carolina.

Tight end Bubba Franks remains without a contract.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Javon Walker is embarking on what figures to be a bitter holdout.

Nonetheless, the Packers have the firepower to remain one of the elite offenses in the league. Back are offensive tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton. Center Mike Flanagan, with his ailing knee mended, is back to anchor the line. Ageless Pro Bowl fullback William Henderson will be blasting open the holes for dynamic running back Ahman Green. And, of course, the heart and soul of the team, Brett Favre, remains the leader of the Pack. With the start of training camp just around the corner, here is a breakdown of the offense, with positions ranked from worst to best.

1. Guards: With the fierce Rivera and athletic Wahle leading the way, the Packers have been able to produce one of the league's most feared running games the past few seasons. In their places figure to be Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm. O'Dwyer is getting long in the tooth and missed most of last season after injuring a pectoral muscle while lifting weights. Klemm has been injured more than he's been healthy during his career. If they are healthy, if O'Dwyer returns to form and if Klemm plays to his enormous potential, the dropoff from Wahle and Rivera will be minimized. If Klemm and O'Dwyer can't stay on the field, however, the middle of the line will become a huge question mark. Weakness at guard, meanwhile, means Flanagan will have to help with double teams rather than get out in space, which is his strength. Backing up Klemm is unproven Atlas Herrion — a dicey proposition — and steady Grey Ruegamer is waiting in the wings if O'Dwyer isn't up to the task.

2. Tight end: Franks is one of the more underrated players at his position. Yes, he's not as productive as you'd like between the 20-yard-lines. And yes, Franks rarely is a threat to pick up major yards after the catch. But, at 6-foot-6, Franks is an inviting target in the red zone and when the offense needs a first down. So there are no worries at starter. Behind Franks, however, is the underachieving David Martin and underwhelming Ben Steele/Sean McHugh/Garrett Cross/Steve Fleming. Martin is coming off a season-ending knee injury and posted a career low in receptions. Steele is a decent blocker and special-teams performer, but he couldn't catch a cold if he worked at a day-care center in January. Cross, who was a favorite target of first-round draft pick Aaron Rodgers at California, could become the No. 3 tight end with a solid training camp, but his blocking is a question mark.

3. Wide receiver: Obviously, without Javon Walker, this position becomes an even bigger question mark. As it is, the health of Robert Ferguson will be the key to the long-term health of the position. Ferguson looked good during the minicamps, but he hasn't had to catch a pass in traffic with a linebacker or safety bearing down on him. Donald Driver is coming off a stellar season, and his work ethic makes a repeat more likely than not. But if Walker is a no show when the regular season opens, Driver will be the focal point of defenses instead of facing steady doses of single coverage. The depth behind the Big Three is decent. Antonio Chatman was surprisingly productive as the No. 4 receiver. Drafting Terrence Murphy in the second round and Craig Bragg in the sixth certainly won't hurt. If Walker happily returns and Ferguson returns to form, and if either Murphy or Bragg is an impact player, this position will be downright ridiculous. But if Walker's holdout lingers, Ferguson struggles to become an impact player again, and the rookies are slow to adjust to the pro game, the passing game will be firing blanks.

4. Tackles: There's no knocking the starters, Tauscher and Clifton. They are arguably the best combo in the conference, if not the entire league. Both provide plenty of security for Favre in the pocket and are outstanding in the run game. Behind Tauscher and Clifton, however, are question marks. Kevin Barry has been fine as a situational blocker, but Brad Bedell is little more than a journeyman. Behind them, Steve Morley is untested and Brennan Curtin hasn't stayed healthy in his two seasons.

5. Center: How important is Flanagan? With their longtime starter out for the season after knee surgery, Green Bay's rushing total dipped by one-fourth. To be sure, the blame can't all fall on Flanagan's absence, but he's a rare center who can lead the way on sweeps and screen passes. Not to mention his experience and knowledge of the offense. Flanagan's health is key, since he will be flanked by newcomers at guard. They will need to form a cohesive unit. Behind Flanagan, Scott Wells impressed in limited action last season, and Junius Coston was an intriguing draft choice.

6. Running back: Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher provide enviable production out of the backfield. A few reasons for concern, if you'd like to nitpick, however: Green rushed for 1,163 yards in 2004 after gaining 1,883 yards in 2003; Green's first downs fell from 96 to 55; Green's fumbling problem — usually just a September downfall — continued in December; half of Davenport's yards came in the St. Louis game; Fisher is steady but doesn't have game-changing skills. These critiques, however, are merely splitting hairs. Few teams wouldn't trade their running backs for the Packers' group. Green and Davenport are in the last years of their contracts. They will be hungry and ready to produce big numbers.

7. Fullback: The Packers signed Nick Luchey a few years ago to unseat Henderson. Well, Luchey still is the backup as the ageless Henderson gets better like a fine wine. Luchey is no slouch, however. Especially early in the season, he was the lead blocker on many of the Packers' big running plays. Luchey played in more than 40 percent of the snaps in which the Packers used a fullback, meaning Henderson was rested and ready when called upon. Henderson's hallmark is his blocking, but he has become a better receiver over the years.

8. Quarterback: Yes, Favre is getting old. Yes, backup Craig Nall hasn't had to produce when it really counts. Yes, Rodgers could be a total bust. But, like at the running back position, there are few teams in the league that wouldn't swap their quarterbacks for the Packers' trio. Last we saw Favre, he was getting picked off left and right by the Vikings in the playoffs. Still, he topped 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns for just the third time in his brilliant career. In a league in which a passer rating of 90.0 is considered superb, Nall fashioned a figure of 139.4 on the strength of 69.7 passing, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers, not Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, was the Pac-10's all-conference quarterback. It won't take long for J.T. O'Sullivan, the No. 4 quarterback, to land a job once he's released.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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