Central Florida product Josh Sitton has emerged as the Packers' top rookie story this training camp. Among all the other draft picks, he is the only one with a chance to start when the Packers open the regular season.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Thursday said Sitton will make another start when the Packers travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers in preseason contest No. 2 on Saturday night. The Packers had to reshuffle their offensive line last week because of an abdominal injury to center Scott Wells, thus moving normal starting guard Jason Spitz to center against the Bengals on Monday night. Sitton got the start at right guard.
With the offensive line getting back to full strength this week (Wells returned to his center spot and Spitz to left guard at Wednesday night's practice), Sitton has remained at his spot. Over the past two days, he has taken the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 unit, a strong indication he may not move from the lineup since the Packers moved into more of their regular-season practice mode on Thursday. With only six training camp practices and three preseason games remaining, less and less focus will be on competitive periods and more and more on how to prepare for a regular-season game.
Sitton had an up-and-down night in his debut against the Bengals in just more than two quarters of play, but he has been the most impressive of the Packers' guards.
"I thought he did a lot of good things," said McCarthy. "He had some things he can learn from, particularly in the defensive movement part of the game. But I thought Josh, for being his first time out there, he's off to a good start."
While the story headed into training camp was the battle between third-year pro Daryn Colledge and second-year prospect Allen Barbre for one of the starting guard spots, Sitton entered the fray by surprise. Not many would expect him to compete this well this fast.
"He hasn't been fazed by the speed of the game at all which is usually the big major adjustment guys have to get used to," said Wells.
More than anything, Sitton seems ready to start as a rookie. What he may lack in NFL experience to Colledge, and in versatility to Spitz, he more than makes up for in other areas. He picked up the Packers' offensive system quickly during the OTA practices and has more than held his own in one-on-one drills in training camp. In that sense, he already has proved himself.
Going back to McCarthy's first year in Green Bay (2005) and the implementation of the zone-blocking scheme, the Packers' guard situation has been unsteady. Colledge, Spitz and Tony Moll rotated the first six games of the 2005 season, before Colledge and Spitz finished the season as the regular starters.
In 2006, injuries along the offensive line and a challenge from backup guard Junius Coston made the starting guard spot an almost weekly debate. The Packers' running game was nonexistent until Ryan Grant broke out the second half of the season.
This season, all indications are the Packers are looking to end the musical chairs. Though many of their linemen offer versatility, Coston has been practicing primarily at center, and Colledge and Moll have being moving around positions as though they would be the primary backups at guard and tackle.
McCarthy knows what he has in Colledge, and to an extent, knows what he has with Barbre. Sitton is the intriguing one. If he can perform well in the next three preseason games, he should be the one to get the nod.
"Really, you've got five guys competing for three positions in there," said McCarthy of his interior line competition. "We're going to try to keep Sitton at right guard, like to keep Allen at left guard, and the other three obviously have flexibility. ... (Josh) has got a lot of football in front of him. He needs to play. He needs to see all of the stunts and games and three-man games and the tendencies. The game planning schedule will help him because you'll be able to concentrate more on things he is going to see in the games in three days as opposed to competing against the defense and then seeing a whole different defense once he competes. He just needs as many reps as he can get."
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.