Judging by how the Packers used two of their draft choices on Sunday, they are preparing for life without longtime starting right tackle Mark Tauscher.
The Packers drafted Eastern Michigan's T.J. Lang in the fourth round and South Carolina's Jamon Meredith in the fifth round. Lang was a three-year starter at left tackle and Meredith started 30 games at left and right tackle. Both operated in zone-blocking schemes in college.
With Tauscher still unsigned while trying to recover from a torn ACL, Sunday's draft choices signal the Packers either are moving on without Tauscher or are preparing for life without him should he sign with another team.
General manager Ted Thompson, while saying the door was open for his return, offered a tepid statement about Tauscher.
"There hasn't been any determination made there," he said. "It's still a medical thing. The timing of when he's going to be (healthy), that sort of thing."
Asked who would be the starting right tackle if the Packers had to line up today, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin called it a "very good question" that didn't need an answer any time soon.
Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen wouldn't pinpoint positions for Lang and Meredith. The hard-nosed Lang (6-foot-4, 316 pounds) might be better suited for guard, but he'll certainly receive a look at right tackle. Meredith (6-5, 305), with 11 starts at right tackle and 19 at left tackle in the rugged Southeastern Conference, will be in contention, as will holdovers Tony Moll, Breno Giacomini, Allen Barbre and, perhaps, Daryn Colledge. About the only guy not in the equation is Josh Sitton, who McCarthy said will be rooted at right guard.
"Whether we have them in the right spots tomorrow, we won't know," Philbin said of Meredith and Lang. "We need to get them here and work them with a bit. Where they start … in a perfect world, you put a guy in a spot and he stays there forever. That may be the case with these young guys, it may not be."
One of the knocks against Meredith – and probably the reason why he slid from a potential second-round pick -- was his perceived lack of aggressiveness. Philbin said he didn't notice that was an issue in watching South Carolina play against Kentucky and Iowa late in the season, and Meredith didn't understand why he fell, either. Meredith called the draft a long ordeal, considering he expected to be drafted on Saturday but had to wait until Sunday afternoon.
"It's cool, man, because all of it's in the past," said Meredith, who endured a strange senior season at South Carolina by having to sit out the first two games an part of an NCAA deal to redshirt after playing a few snaps in 2004, then was moved to left guard upon his return.
Meredith, who called himself a natural left tackle and could possibly replace Chad Clifton down the road, sounded like a man with a chip on his shoulder.
"Just by playing," he said when asked about answering the skeptics. "Just by people getting to know me and just playing and proving their wrong. I've been doing it my whole career, so it's nothing different."
Whether Meredith and Lang are ready to play a big role immediately will be determined during the dog days of training camp. Their ability to play from Day 1, however, probably has little bearing on Tauscher's future.
With a cadre of tackles on the roster, time in Green Bay may have run out on the 31-year-old Tauscher. Tauscher, who was born in Marshfield, Wis., and played collegiately at Wisconsin, is one of the Packers' quiet, respected leaders. The former seventh-round draft pick moved into the starting lineup during Week 2 of his rookie season and, other than a torn ACL in 2002, has been a solid, durable, classy mainstay in the offensive line ever since.
But time waits for no one in the NFL. Meredith and Lang may never be as good as Tauscher, but this is a young man's game, and Tauscher's knee failed him at the worst time.
"You never say never in pro football," Philbin said. "There's a million things that could happen between now in September. Certainly, there's possibilities I guess."
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