Offensive line lacks sure things

Including April's draft, Ted Thompson has added 13 offensive linemen during his tenure. Why, despite abundant resources being poured into the line, has it not become a marquee group? In another non-Brett Favre story, we examine the reasons, from personnel decisions to coaching.

Including last month's NFL draft, Packers general manager Ted Thompson has spent 10 draft picks on offensive linemen. Throw in three free agents, Thompson has added 13 offensive linemen during his five years on the job.

What does he have to show for it?

Not nearly enough.

The Packers' preferred starting offensive line last season included two players drafted by Ron Wolf (tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher) and one drafted by Mike Sherman (center Scott Wells). Only two of Thompson's additions from 2005 through 2008 (guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, second- and third-round picks, respectively, in 2006) are in the starting lineup.

Of the 13 linemen grabbed by Thompson, four never panned out (2005 free agents Adrian Klemm and Matt O'Dwyer; 2005 fifth-rounder Junius Coston and 2005 seventh-rounder Will Whitticker) and two haven't panned out (2006 fifth-rounder Tony Moll and 2007 fourth-rounder Allen Barbre).

Two could enter training camp as the front-runners to win starting jobs (2008 fourth-rounder Josh Sitton and 2008 fifth-rounder Breno Giacomini) and three were added this offseason (free agent Duke Preston, fouth-rounder T.J. Lang and fifth-rounder Jamon Meredith).

The Packers' inability to find above-average starters was evident last season, when Aaron Rodgers absorbed 34 sacks and Ryan Grant was shackled for just 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.

Making matters worse, the Packers don't have an heir at right tackle, a position manned capably since 2000 by the too-often underappreciated Tauscher. They have a host of players who figure to contend for the position — including Giacomini, Barbre, Moll and Lang — but to put a spin on the saying about quarterbacks, if you've got four or five right tackles, you don't have any. And what if the sore-kneed Clifton's level of play takes another step back this season? The tackle positions are the most important spots on an offensive line, and the Packers are vulnerable on both sides.

It's impossible to make a blanket statement if you're playing the blame game.

Front and center would be Thompson, for failing to get the right players. Colledge has developed into at least an average starter, but three picks later, the Chargers found two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill. The Bengals' Andrew Whitworth (left tackle) and the Buccaneers' Jeremy Trueblood (right tackle) also have become quality starting tackles as second-round picks, as has Houston right tackle Eric Winston early in the third. Also in the 2006 draft, Saints fourth-rounder Jahri Evans has become one of the best guards in the business.

It's worth noting that of the 10 draft picks Thompson has used on the line, only Colledge was a second-rounder and Spitz a third. So, Thompson has gone with the quantity-over-quality approach.

Some of it has to fall on the coaching staff, too. It didn't help that Jeff Jagodzinski, who then-new coach Mike McCarthy hired as offensive coordinator, left to become Boston College's head coach after just one season in Green Bay.

"His No. 1 strength is the interior," McCarthy said after hiring Jagodzinski, who learned the nuances of the zone blocking scheme under zone guru Alex Gibbs in Atlanta.

Philbin, who was offensive line coach, was promoted to replace Jagodzinski. James Campen, who was Philbin's assistant line coach, took over the offensive line. Philbin and Campen had just one year to learn from Jagodzinski before their promotions. Sometimes, the mentor doesn't learn everything from the teacher. In this case, Philbin and Campen were learning from Jagodzinski, who learned from Gibbs.

But if you're looking for reasons for optimism, they're not hard to find.

Colledge and Spitz are entering their fourth seasons as starters. Giacomini, Barbre and Sitton are another year stronger and more mature. Preston has starting experience, and Lang is highly thought of by coaches past and present. McCarthy has vowed to stop the "merry-go-round" that has prevented the line from gelling. A more-seasoned Rodgers should be better at putting the offense in good plays from the line of scrimmage and quicker to make a decision in the passing game.

Somehow, the Packers must find a way to overcome Clifton's aging body and the presumed loss of Tauscher to field a better offensive line, whether it's from an improvement by established players or new faces.

"We anticipate with what we've added today, what we've got coming back, that we're going to have a darned good offensive line when we open the season," Philbin said during the draft. "Exactly who's going to be exactly where, a lot of things can happen between then and now."


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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 Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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