Time to move on at center

Packers better off giving gutsy Flanagan a break and evaluating younger linemen

While the football world speculates on whether or not Brett Favre will be playing in his final game as a Packer Sunday, one of the few remaining warriors from the Glory Years II era may have already played in his final game in Green Bay.

Mike Flanagan made his 63rd start at center against the Chicago Bears on Christmas Day, which is an accomplishment in itself. The 10th-year pro has been battling a hernia injury throughout the season. Early on against the Bears, he could no longer tolerate the pain and removed himself from the game. It may be the last time Flanagan, who along with Favre and fullback William Henderson are the only remaining players from the team's Super Bowl XXXI championship team, plays for the Packers.

There is a chance that Flanagan will suit up against the Seahawks. And it wouldn't be too surprising if he does. Flanagan has battled injuries throughout his career, but has been able to overcome them enough to earn two trips to the Pro Bowl. Despite undergoing hernia surgery in early October, he was named a first alternate for the NFC in February's Pro Bowl.

Flanagan is listed as questionable on the team's mid-week injury report, but at this point in the season and considering Green Bay's record, the Packers are better off taking a look at a few younger linemen and giving Flanagan a well-deserved break.

Green Bay has a couple of promising young centers waiting in the wings in second-year pro Scott Wells and rookie Chris White. Both will compete for the starting job in the 2006 training camp, along with untested rookie Junius Coston. All three linemen can play center or guard, and that gives Green Bay's line added versatility.

Coach Mike Sherman told the media today that veteran Grey Ruegamer will begin the game at center if Flanagan is unable to play. He will be backed up by White, activated for his first game last Sunday, and Wells at left guard and rookie Will Whitticker at right guard. If Flanagan does not suit up, Coston, the team's first of two fifth-round picks, will get on the field for the first time this season.

"There's a chance that could happen and there's a chance that they'll be in the game to help us win the football game," Sherman said of the younger players.

Sherman should make playing his younger players a priority against the Seahawks. Along with Whitticker, the Packers feel that White, Coston and Wells represent the future of the interior of Green Bay's line. If that's the case, both the younger players and the Packers will benefit by getting some playing time against the Seahawks in what will be nothing more than a glorified preseason game.

If general manager continues to weed out the veteran players from the Packers roster, Flanagan, 32, probably will not be back with the Packers in 2006. Green Bay no doubt will use one or two of their draft picks on offensive linemen, and possibly acquire a younger lineman through free agency. Flanagan becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he draws no interest from other teams in the league, the Packers may try to re-sign him to a short-term deal, but that even seems doubtful as Thompson rebuilds the team.

From the time he took over as starter for veteran Frank Winters in 2001 through the 2003 season, Flanagan was one of the best centers in the league. He is a talented athlete that can play any position on the line. Unfortunately injuries over the past two seasons (knee tendonitis in 2004) have gotten the best of him.

"For him to play in the pain that he has played with throughout this season is a credit to him and his commitment to this team," said Sherman.

Hats off to Flanagan, but the time has come for the Packers to move on at center.

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

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