Packers' lines aren't so fine

Problems along both lines are major questions entering the regular season, Packer Report's Doug Ritchay writes.

Most football teams build from the inside out, meaning they try to make their offensive and defensive lines their strengths and go from there.

It makes sense.

The offensive line needs to protect the quarterback and open holes in the running game. The defensive line needs to pressure the quarterback and plug up holes.

A lot of times, we analyze football to death on what's going right or wrong and why. Truth is, if you can't play in the trenches, you're not going to win.

Which is why there should be concern about the Packers as they enter the regular season. Coach Mike McCarthy has been unable to settle on five starters on the offensive line because of injury and ineffectiveness.

With a new starting quarterback, the last thing you want is a questionable offensive line, especially when the Packers open the season against a top-five caliber defense in Minnesota.

Last year, the offensive line was shaky until Ryan Grant became the starting halfback. He made the line better with his talent. He carried the football exactly zero times this preseason, so maybe his presence in the regular season can change things.

General manager Ted Thompson was asked about the offensive line recently and, as expected, downplayed the situation.

"Injuries are part of the game. You can't control it. So, with our training, we were preparing for injuries during the season, and we're in that mind-set right now," Thompson said. "I'm not concerned about it. That's why we've trained them as many different ways as we possibly can. The injury situation is upon us, and we'll fight through. The positive thing about it is we're prepared for it."

OK, but are you prepared for what the defensive line has come to be? Don't lie, because I know you weren't.

You shipped Corey Williams to Cleveland for a second-round pick (Brian Brohm), Johnny Jolly has off-field concerns and your prized No. 1 pick from a year ago, Justin Harrell, is out with a back injury and likely won't play for the first half of the season.

Also, veteran tackle Ryan Pickett has missed camp with an injury, although he says he'll be ready for the Vikings. Maybe, but no preseason action and little on-field work means Pickett will be rusty, not ready. Furthermore, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is out with a knee injury, so you don't have his speed off the edge on passing downs.

This has left your defensive line in shambles. Adrian Peterson needs a bib for his drool when thinking about this defensive line, because he may never get tackled on Sept. 8. The Packers simply will have no defensive linemen capable of making things tough up front.

Yeah, Colin Cole and Daniel Muir are serviceable, but what will that get you in the NFL?

Yeah, Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins are on the outside — and Jenkins can move inside — but that's it among quality defensive linemen.

Last year, this unit was stacked. A year later, it may be the weakest part of the team.

"It happens," Thompson said about the injuries. "It's been that way at running back for us last year. We had guys hurt all the time, and even the year before the running back position during the season was like that. Sometimes, it just works out that way."

If it stays that way, the Packers will relinquish the NFC North crown to the Vikings. Minnesota is an up-and-coming team and the Packers, with their injuries on the lines, could be on the downswing. Nobody can forecast injuries, but nobody liked the idea of drafting Harrell last year other than Thompson, and Thompson's picks on the offensive line — notably Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge — haven't worked out as well as hoped.

Because of this, the Packers enter the season as an uncertain team. Many thought it would be because of Rodgers, but that's not it at all. Rodgers' preseason play has calmed Packers Nation at quarterback.

However, the line play has everybody on edge. If the Packers don't get a run of good luck with injuries and off-field news (Jolly), it will be this position that costs the Packers in the long run.

The ironic thing is Thompson drafted at these positions to avoid this type of situation, but injuries and less-than-stellar play have trumped him. He knew it was important to build the lines, but the lines have crumbled like Gilbert Brown sitting on a lawn chair.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. He has covered the Packers since 1993. E-mail him at dritchay@new.rr.com.


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