For the offensive line, most of its growing pains are expected to subside in 2007, which should translate into a more productive offense. The line has a desirable blend of veteran experience in tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher to go with the younger players like guard Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, and center Scott Wells.
Those starting five have been able to polish their assignments and chemistry within the team's zone-blocking scheme this off-season to the delight of head coach Mike McCarthy. That should mean a more effective running game than the attack that finished 23rd in the league last year.
"I'm very encouraged," said McCarthy. "I spend a lot of time with those line coaches. They're the guys that are always there at night when you're leaving. When we first got together in February (in 2006), there were a lot of holes on that depth chart as far as there was nobody there, not the people that were there. In just a short time, it's a credit to (general manager) Ted Thompson, the personnel staff and the coaches and their evaluation on the number of young guys we've taken and the quality of young players we have there. I think we have a very, very bright future starting this year with the offensive line."
Clifton is entering his eighth straight season, all with Green Bay, as the starter on the left side while Tauscher, who began his career in Green Bay at the same time as Clifton, is back for his eighth season at right tackle. Colledge, whom McCarthy deemed as the team's most improved player last year, is expected to start at left guard, and Spitz at right guard. Wells, entering his fourth season, enters his second season as a full-time center.
The depth behind the starters is just as encouraging for the Packers. Second-year pro Tony Moll, who started eight games last season at guard and tackle, is backing up Tauscher on the right side.
With College, Spitz and Moll in starting roles last season at various times, sometimes at once (see Miami game on Oct. 22), the Packers were the first team since the 2003 New York Giants to start three rookies.
"People don't start three rookies on the offensive line, that's unheard of in this league, and we did and we still held our own," said outgoing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who left for his head coaching job at Boston College last January. "We ended up being (ninth) in the league in total offense, and that is those young kids coming along. You could see their development. I think this will be invaluable for the Packers, playing those young kids."
Thompson re-inforced the depth on the line by selecting tackle/guard Allen Barbre in the fourth round of April's NFL draft. Barbre played tackle throughout his career at Missouri Southern State, but has been inserted as a backup to Colledge at left guard in off-season minicamps and Organized Team Activities practices. At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Barbre may eventually be moved to left tackle.
While Colledge is McCarthy's top backup at left tackle, the Packers have taken a long look at free agent Orrin Thompson this off-season at that position. Thompson (6-6, 322) has played both right and left tackle in practices, but mainly left tackle, and has a chance of remaining with the team providing he can adapt to the zone-blocking scheme in training camp.
McCarthy said this off-season that he has been impressed with the versatile Junius Coston, who is listed as a tackle but also plays guard and center. Coston, entering his third season, had a frustrating 2006 season. He was in line to start at guard until the Packers selected three guards in the NFL draft. Then he sustained an MCL injury in the preseason finale which caused him to miss the first month of practice. Coston wound up playing two offensive snaps (Dec. 17 vs. Detroit) the entire season. Still, his versatility is an asset and with better luck in training camp, he has a good chance of sticking with the team.
The Packers probably will go with nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, so that leaves guards Tony Palmer, Tyson Walter, Adam Stenavich, Pat Murray and Travis Leffew, along with Thompson and Coston, firmly on the bubble. Palmer and Walter were with the Packers last season, so that gives them a big advantage over the others.
Here is a predicted list of nine linemen the Packers will keep:
1. Chad Clifton (tackle)
2. Daryn Colledge (left guard)
3. Scott Wells (center)
4. Jason Spitz (right guard)
5. Mark Tauscher (right tackle)
6. Tony Moll (right tackle, guard)
7. Allen Barbre (left guard, tackle)
8. Junius Coston (right, left guard, center)
9. Tony Palmer (right, left guard)
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.