Packers shuffle deck along offensive line

Tony Moll is benched in his audition at right tackle in place of Mark Tauscher, with Daryn Colledge going to right tackle, Jason Spitz to left guard and rooke Josh Sitton joining the lineup at right guard.

The disappointment and unhappiness was obvious in Tony Moll's voice.

"What can you say," the right tackle said on Wednesday about losing the starting job. "They're trying to figure out a way to win. Moving three guys must be the way."

With only Sunday's season finale against Detroit remaining to his bitterly disappointing season, Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff decided shuffling the offensive line was the best way to cope with the absence of veteran Mark Tauscher. Daryn Colledge is moving from left guard to right tackle, Jason Spitz is moving from right guard to left guard and rookie Josh Sitton will make his first NFL start at right guard.

"It's going to be a long week of technical work," said Colledge, the former second-round pick who has started games at left guard, right guard and left tackle during his three seasons with the Packers. "I've got a road ahead of me, but I've got a nice challenge, and that's always exciting."

Colledge finished last year's season finale against Detroit at right tackle after the coaches decided to replace veteran starters like Tauscher late in the game. He also spent his redshirt season at Boise State at right tackle before moving to the left side. When Tauscher suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago against Houston, Moll took Tauscher's spot and Colledge began working at the position to provide depth.

Still, Colledge's head will be spinning this week because everything will be the opposite of what he's used to. The plays, obviously, will be different. Plus, he needs to get comfortable with the footwork. A player on the right side of the line takes his first step with his right foot; a left-side player starts with his left foot.

"It's another opportunity for me to go out there and have the deck stacked against me," Colledge said.

Switching positions is nothing new to Colledge this season. During training camp, he sometimes would alternate snaps between left guard and left tackle. He's also had to fill in for left tackle Chad Clifton when the veteran missed a game with a reaction to medication or was unable to finish games because of injuries.

"This is like having to play left tackle just before the game," Colledge said. "You're excited for an opportunity, because you know there's going to be a bunch of people out there wondering if you can get it done. You get to go out there and prove yourself, and that's the great thing about football. Every weekend, you get to try to prove yourself, and this weekend I get a special opportunity to go out and prove my versatility and have a great end to my season."

Meanwhile, Sitton finally gets his long-awaited starting debut. The rookie fourth-round pick seemingly had earned the job at right guard during training camp but he sprained a knee during the preseason. By the time he had recovered, the Packers had settled on Spitz and Colledge as the guards.

Sitton, however, prefers to be positive about the injury. Sure, it cost him his starting job, but at least he didn't tear a ligament.

For the soft-spoken Sitton, who was the top blocker at Central Florida for national rushing leader Kevin Smith – now the Lions' starting running back – Sunday's game likely will be an audition of sorts that the coaches will examine closely as they make plans for 2009.

"I haven't really thought about it, honestly," Sitton said. "Coaches say get in there today and I'm just going out there and playing."

The play of Sitton and Colledge could play a role in the future of Tauscher, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Interest in Tauscher around the league likely will be low as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, making Tauscher's return more likely. On the other hand, if Colledge and Sitton look like naturals on Sunday, the Packers – a team never afraid to go with a younger guy over an aging veteran – could decide to go in that direction.

"This really has no factor in Mark Tauscher," McCarthy said. "We haven't talked about him in a few weeks. We think the world of Mark. This is not a reaction to anything for the future. This is what we feel gives us the best opportunity to beat the Detroit Lions."

Either way, Moll is the odd man out. This was his big chance to show the team he could be a long-term answer. Instead, he yielded a couple of key pressures against star defensive end Mario Williams against the Texans, two sacks against Jacksonville rookie Derrick Harvey and blew a block on a quarterback draw on second-and-goal in the third quarter at Chicago.

"Well, Tony had an excellent opportunity," McCarthy said. "He did a lot of positive things in the game. I like the way he plays. He's tough, he's competitive, but it wasn't as sharp as we would have liked. Josh has been practicing very well, and like I said, this has been a possibility. This isn't something that is a major change. I know it's probably disappointing for Tony, to speak on his behalf, and I thought he practiced very well today, just watching the way he reacted to all of this. This has been a rotation that has been evident throughout our season."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.


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