Insider analysis: Duke Preston

Packer Report goes beyond the news to tell you what adding the beefy Buffalo Bills free-agent lineman could mean for the current roster and the Packers' draft plans.

The Green Bay Packers' interest in center Duke Preston both makes sense and is surprising all at once.

While the interior of the Packers' offensive line isn't a strength, they can at least get by with Scott Wells battling Jason Spitz to be the starting center, and Spitz, Josh Sitton, Daryn Colledge and Allen Barbre all in the mix at guard. All are young players, and the hope is a couple of them will develop into above-average starters.

Adding Preston — who the Bills seemed all-too-happy to replace this offseason with career backup Geoff Hangartner — seemingly doesn't do much to strengthen that group.

"Duke Preston was often the fall-guy on Buffalo's offensive line last season," said Tyler Dunne, who writes for Packer Report as well as Scout.com's Buffalo Bills site. "Arguably the main reason the Bills slid from 4-0 to 7-9 last year was their ineffectiveness against 3-4 defenses. New England, Miami and New York all employ the alignment in the AFC East, and those defenses ate Preston as the appetizer, Marshawn Lynch for lunch and went 6-0 against Buffalo."

What Preston would add is some beef. On a Packers offensive line built more for agility than power, the 6-foot-5 Preston tipped the scales at 326 pounds last season. Beyond that, his youth (he turns 27 in June), upside (20 starts in four seasons) and ability to play both guard positions makes him interesting to the Packers.

"The Bills' rushing attack was churning by year's end — in large part to Preston's development," Dunne said. "After getting stuffed through the meat of Buffalo's schedule, Lynch found his legs late with big games against San Francisco (16 carries, 131 yards) and the Jets (21 carries, 127 yards). Preston can swing at guard, which must be intriguing to the Packers. Hard to totally write off Preston just yet, but in 11 starts last year, he looked like nothing more than a nifty pivot to play in a pinch."

Signing Preston would lead to a few other questions. Would Wells, 28, who's in the middle of a five-year, $15 million deal inked during the 2006 season, be the odd man out after an injury-plagued season? Or would adding another interior lineman mean Colledge and/or Barbre would be shifted to tackle? And if that's the case, would that signal the end for Mark Tauscher, a free agent coming off of a torn ACL?

Adding Preston probably would mean the Packers wouldn't be adding an interior lineman during the early rounds of the draft. This is a great class of centers, led by possible first-round picks Alex Mack of California and Max Unger of Oregon. Louisville's Eric Wood, Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs, Alabama's Antoine Caldwell, Penn State's A.Q. Shipley and Oklahoma's Jon Cooper are mid-round prospects. Caldwell, at 307, is the biggest of the bunch, and Cooper dominated the athletic drills at the Combine.

"This is a very good center class," Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber said. "This is one of the better center classes I've seen in a long time. Players like Alex Mack, Eric Wood and Max Unger are borderline first-round picks and have the ability to make an immediate impact at the next level."

Preston's agent, Craig Domann, was at the NFL owners meetings and not available for comment.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport


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