Grading the Packers: Offensive line

Despite injuries, line improved as season progressed, says's Todd Korth

For the most part, the Green Bay Packers had a healthy season up and down the roster. That wasn't necessarily the case with the offensive line.

While bookend tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher started all 18 games for the Packers, the interior of the line was often shuffled due to injuries. Center Scott Wells, and guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz were the starters down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs, but each player missed games because of injuries, making way for Junius Coston and Tony Moll to start some games.

At times, the lack of continuity seemed to affect the Packers' rushing attack. However, when Ryan Grant grabbed hold of the starting running back job midway through the season, the line seemed to progress at a faster pace, and Grant fell 44 yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing.

With more three- and five-step drops, Brett Favre was only sacked 15 times during the regular season compared to 21 times in 2006. But the line often gave Favre sufficient time to spot an open receiver, which helped Green Bay rank second overall in the league in passing.

In a league where there is often turnover from year to year on the offensive line, the Packers will have all five starters under contract for the 2008 season.

"The positive is they're all young," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy of the offensive linemen. "They're all going to get stronger; they're going to get bigger; they're going to be smarter; their fundamentals are going to improve. We have so much in front of us.

"I'm extremely pleased with our ability to pass protect. I'll take our group over anybody in the league as far as what we ask them to do in pass protection, and the performance level of our pass protection. Our pass protection was clearly better this year than last year, and on top of that, the stress of what we put our players in this year was 10-fold what we asked them to do last year. So that part of it, they've done a great job of.

"But we need to pick up the run-game performance, and having Ryan Grant is a big part of that. Having a full offseason to develop and play the upcoming season the way you want to play, as opposed to going through growing pains like we went from last year's offseason program when we didn't really know who the runner was going to be, and offensive linemen fighting for jobs, so now we have a lot of competition there. I think just the maturation of our players and being in year three will help us."

Look for the Packers to boost depth along the offensive line through April's NFL draft, and possibly in free agency. Otherwise, with an offseason of workouts and practices ahead, the line should be better from the get-go.

Here are individual grades for each of the linemen:

Chad Clifton: Fittingly, Clifton will be participating in the annual Pro Bowl on Feb. 9 in Hawaii, but he had to go through the back door to make the team. Seattle's Walter Jones will not play in the all-star game, so Clifton, a first alternate, makes his first trip.

Needless to say, Clifton deserves the Pro Bowl honor. In his eighth season, he provided ample protection of Brett Favre's blind side and increasingly adapted to the team's zone-blocking scheme.

Clifton has missed only one game in the past five seasons. He started all 18 games for the Packers this season, despite sustaining an ankle injury late in the game in a Week 2 win over the New York Giants. He only allowed 3 ½ sacks during the regular season
Grade: A-

Mark Tauscher: Like Clifton, Tauscher started all 18 games and played through an ankle injury that he sustained Nov. 11 against Minnesota. In 109 career games, Tauscher has started 107.

Tauscher allowed six sacks, a year after he did give up any in 11 games. Tauscher shined against Seattle's Patrick Kerney in the NFC Divisional playoff game, holding Kerney without a tackle and no sacks. Tauscher also played well against the Giants' Michael Strahan in the NFC Championship Game.
Grade: B-

Scott Wells: The quarterback of the offensive line, Wells played in 14 regular season games and both playoff games, with 15 total starts. He sustained a fractured eye socket during an Oct. 7 game against Chicago and did not play the next week. He missed the following game Oct. 29 against Denver with pneumonia, and returned the following week against Kansas City.

Wells only allowed a half sack, a year after he gave up none.
Grade: B+ Jason Spitz: One of the more versatile linemen, Spitz played in 14 of 16 regular season games with 12 starts, and started both playoff games at right guard. During the regular season, he started seven games at right guard, three at center for the injured Wells, and two at left guard.

Spitz dealt with a calf injury early in the season, causing him to not play in two games. He enters the off-season as the player to beat at right guard. Spitz only allowed a half sack during the regular season.
Grade: C+

Daryn Colledge: A second-year pro like Spitz, Colledge was inconsistent at best during the season. He was benched for three games late in the season because of his play, then got the nod to start at left guard in the regular season finale and had his best game of the season. He followed that up with another solid performance in Green Bay's playoff win over Seattle.

Colledge, however, allowed some bone-crunching sacks on Favre, especially Nov. 29 at Dallas. If there is turnover at any position this off-season, it probably will be at left guard, but Colledge showed enough improvement late in the season to hold onto the starting job.

Colledge gave up 3 ½ sacks during the season and also had spot duty at left tackle for Clifton.
Grade: D+

Junius Coston: The second-year pro was on the verge of bumping Colledge from the starting left guard position late in the season, but he sustained an ankle injury midway through the season, and a calf injury in the regular season finale, which was enough for him to be placed on injured reserve.

Coston played in 13 games with seven starts. He will be pushing Colledge for the starting position at left guard for the 2008 season.
Grade: C-

Tony Moll: The second-year pro missed most of training camp with a neck stinger that he sustained early on, and that seemed to affect him into the season. After starting in 10 games as a rookie, Moll played in nine games with three starts. He was inactive for four games and did not play in three other games.

Moll gave up one sack playing guard and right tackle. He has quick feet and appears better suited to play tackle. He may eventually take over for Tauscher.
Grade: D+

Allen Barbre: The rookie fourth round draft pick used his rookie season to learn the left guard position. He played in seven games and was inactive for nine games during the regular season. A tackle in college, Barbre received his most playing time in the second half of Green Bay's regular season finale against Detroit, and graded out well, according to coaches.
Grade: C-

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