Top backups: Chris White, C; Jason Spitz, G; Will Whitticker, T/G; Adrian Klemm T/G; Tony Moll, T.
Longshots: Josh Bourke, T; Wayne Lucier, C/G; Pete Traynor C/G.
Injured: Kevin Barry (quadriceps)
One scenario Mike McCarthy and his staff need to avoid this season is waiting too long to settle on the five starting offensive linemen for the Green Bay Packers. Last year, the Packers rotated players at various positions along the line throughout training camp and paid the price throughout the season.
The Packers lost starting guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle via free agency early in the 2005 off-season. In their attempt to replace the two Pro Bowl-caliber players, Mike Sherman and his staff mixed rookies and veterans along the line between tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher during mini-camps and training camp. The inability to find the right mix hampered the Packers' attempt to run the ball when the regular season got under way. That often forced the offense into passing situations early in series. As a result, Brett Favre tried to make things happen but often fell short by throwing interceptions.
When the line lost veteran center Mike Flanagan for an extended period of games early in the season, the line suffered even more.
It is very likely that the Packers will feature three starters between Clifton and Tauscher this season that were not in the starting lineup a year ago. Nothing is set in stone, nor will it be anytime soon, according to McCarthy, but all indications are that second-round draft pick Daryn Colledge has the inside track to start at left guard. Third-year pro Scott Wells seems to have a stranglehold on the center position for the departed Flanagan (Houston) and second-year pro Junius Coston is the favorite to replace ineffective starter Will Whitticker at right guard.
Clifton has not participated in team drills during mini-camps and the current Organized Team Activities because he is rehabbing from off-season knee surgery, but he is a no-brainer to start at left tackle. Veteran Adrian Klemm also has not been able to practice after spraining his knee in the first mini-camp, but Klemm had a chance to start at left guard last year and was eventually replaced by Wells in the second half of the season. Klemm is squarely on the bubble as the team enters training camp.
Whitticker has been used at left tackle this off-season in practices and likely will continue to play tackle, especially with Kevin Barry out for the season with a quadriceps injury.
The coaching staff has been impressed with Colledge throughout the off-season mini-camps, and the same with Coston.
If Colledge, Wells and Coston communicate well with Clifton and Tauscher in training camp, chances are very good that those five will have most of the camp work together in the team's new zone-blocking scheme.
"Offense or defense, that's where it starts," McCarthy said. "You like to have that answer as soon as possible, but that might not be our case this year. I think it's important to get the continuity of the best five. Sometimes it's not the most talented five because the offensive line, a lot of it is communication and not just verbal communication. The feel, the continuity of one another. We'll strive to get that answered as soon as possible."
While College and Coston have the edge on the guard positions, they will be pushed by fourth-round pick Jason Spitz, who has experience with zone-blocking and played both sides of the line while at Louisville. Spitz practiced behind Colledge for the first two mini-camps this off-season, but now with Barry out, the staff has moved him to right guard behind Coston.
Determining the five best linemen that work the best together sooner in training camp, rather than later could save McCarthy and the Packers a lot of headaches when the season begins. Thus far, it appears that the finalists are in position. It will be up to them early in training camp to prove that they can handle on-coming defenders with the pads on. If they can, all the better for the line. If not, the Packers may face a repeat of last season and another pop-gun offense.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.