Sitton gets chance to start

Rookie right guard, a fourth-round draft pick who was not invited to the NFL scouting combine, has been a star in one-on-one pass blocking and knows the zone scheme.

Surprisingly, Josh Sitton didn't get invited to the NFL scouting combine. Equally surprisingly, 10 days into training camp, the rookie is battling for the starting spot at right guard.

Sitton helped Kevin Smith threaten Barry Sanders' Division I single-season rushing record last season at Central Florida. But Sitton, at 6-foot-3 and 317 pounds, somehow escaped the gaze of the national scouts. Sitton was told he might be selected in the seventh round or be an undrafted free agent. Instead, the Packers grabbed him in the fourth round.

With Scott Wells out for the past few days, starting right guard Jason Spitz shifted to center for the Family Night Scrimmage, with Sitton replacing Spitz. He's done so well that coach Mike McCarthy is giving Sitton a chance to compete with Spitz, whose job seemed relatively secure entering camp.

"Josh is taking full advantage of this opportunity. That's why we're going to give him an opportunity to win the right guard position," McCarthy said after Wednesday morning's practice.

Sitton was pleased to get this opportunity so early in training camp.

"You come into an NFL training camp, you're ready to compete, you want to come in and make the team. That's your No. 1 goal," Sitton said. "When playing time comes up, you obviously want to compete for that, and that's what I'm doing."

Helping ease Sitton's transition is his familiarity with the zone-blocking scheme, which Central Florida used. Perhaps most surprising, however, is Sitton's performance in one-on-one pass-rushing drills. Few drills in practice translate as well to game situations as the one-on-one pass rush, and Sitton has been superb.

On Tuesday, for instance, he beat starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins so thoroughly that Jenkins gave up barely a second into their matchup. He's also handled Jason Hunter, who has been one of the defensive standouts in the drill. In fact, Sitton has been beaten clearly only once in this drill during matchups watched by this observer every day.

"Obviously, coming into rookie camp, OTAs, (I was a) deer-in-the-headlights rookie, not knowing what to expect," Sitton said. "You get through that. You kind of learn the playbook through all of that, which is a huge help. So, you're not just coming into camp and taking all of this on. Getting here and getting that first minicamp done and getting into pads and kind of learning that you can play here, that's what builds your confidence. You've got to take that and run with it. You just can't let that be it. You've got to keep fighting."

Sitton, who should fit in with many of the linemen because he likes to fish and hunt, has impressed veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who has seen scores of rookie linemen during his nine seasons with the Packers.

"His ability to stay even-keel and not let things overwhelm him has been one of this biggest strengths, other than the fact he's a really good player," Tauscher said.

Sitton wasn't sure what the coaches saw — "they notice whatever they notice," he said. What's been impressive, though, is how quickly he has adjusted to facing NFL talent.

"Every great defender that was in college, they're here. So, it's 11 great guys over there and not just one," Sitton said. "The level of competition, just having to compete every time, there's no letup."

While not lacking in confidence, Sitton was quick to thank his veteran teammates for easing his transition, especially the right-side linemen.

"Mark Tauscher's been riding me. A nine-year veteran. When Scott's out and Spitz in there, he's a 30-game starter. And when Scott's in there, he's a five- or six-year guy," Sitton said.

"To have all of that experience around you, early on in your career and not necessarily having to rely 100 percent on yourself, you can look over and they're going to tell you what to do. They're going to get you right. Just having that experience around me is obviously a huge benefit for my success.

Winning matchups in practice — especially when the Packers' best defensive tackle, Ryan Pickett, hasn't practiced yet — is one thing. Sitton's next test comes in Monday night's preseason opener.

"We're ready for Cincinnati," Sitton said with a smile. "I'm excited to get some playing time against somebody else."

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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