Battles brewing on offensive line

Starting positions at center, right guard and right tackle are up for grabs and 15 offensive linemen are vying for nine spots. Packer Report breaks down the key battles that will be fought when OTAs begin later this month.

From starters to backups, tough decisions await on the offensive line.

The Packers will begin organized team activities at the end of this month with 15 offensive linemen (16, if you're like the Packers and count free agent Mark Tauscher). They kept nine on the roster last year. Along with those six (or seven) roster cuts, starting battles await at right tackle, center, right guard and maybe even left guard.

The breakdown

Returning starters: Left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Daryn Colledge, center Scott Wells, right guard Jason Spitz.

Returning players: Guard/tackle Allen Barbre, tackle Breno Giacomini, guard Nevin McCaskill, tackle/guard Tony Moll, guard Josh Sitton.

Fresh faces: C/G Duke Preston (free agent); G/T T.J. Lang, T Jamon Meredith (draft); guard/center Evan Dietrich-Smith, guard/tackle Andrew Hartline, tackle Dane Randolph (undrafted).

Even for the sake of this analysis, in which Tauscher and the three undrafted players will not be considered, there are 12 players in competition for nine spots. That means hot competition.

The starting battles

Right tackle: This figures to be a free-for-all, with the coaches facing a challenge in simply giving each of these inexperienced candidates enough reps during live situations.

Giacomini, Moll, Barbre and Lang figure to be in the mix. Barbre, arguably the team's strongest player, played in a handful of series at left guard in the two games against Detroit. He was given an opportunity to unseat Colledge at left guard during training camp last season but never mounted a challenge. He's certainly athletic and aggressive enough to win the job at tackle.

The towering Giacomini (6-foot-7, 311 pounds) played just one snap as a rookie (a kneel-down to end the finale against Detroit). He was abused by all comers during one-on-one pass-rushing drills last summer, though daily battles against Aaron Kampman made Giacomini better, according to the coaches, Giacomini and Kampman.

Moll, who started two games at right tackle and played the bulk of two others when Tauscher went down with injuries, failed to seize control of the position during those opportunities. Inexplicably, he seemed to play better when thrust into the lineup in the middle of the game but struggled when given all week to prepare.

Lang, a rookie fourth-round pick from Eastern Michigan who started two seasons at left tackle, could get a look if the others struggle, but he might be slotted for guard. And if all else fails, Colledge would be moved from left guard. The coaches thought his athleticism would be a good fit at right tackle when Moll was benched in the days leading to the finale.

Center: The Packers apparently are ready to move Spitz to center, where he'll battle Wells and newcomer Preston.

Wells has started 52 games at center over the last four seasons. He's intelligent and makes few mistakes, either mentally or when snapping from the shotgun. Those facts shouldn't be overlooked.

With Wells out with a trunk injury, Spitz started the first three games at center last season, including the opener, when the Packers rushed for 139 yards against Minnesota' vaunted front seven. While basically the same size as Wells, he's stronger and more feisty.

Preston is about 15 pounds heavier than both and started 11 games at center last season for Buffalo.

Moving Spitz creates an opening at ...

Right guard: Sitton had taken over this position at training camp last summer until spraining his left knee in the preseason game at Denver. By the time he was healthy again, the Packers were willing to stick with Spitz and Colledge at guards and Wells at center.

Sitton played tackle at Central Florida but will be placed at right guard, coach Mike McCarthy has said.

Preston figures to be in the mix, too, as could Spitz if he's playing well but is unable to unseat Wells at center.

The roster battles

Other than Clifton, Colledge, Sitton, Lang and probably the versatile Spitz, nobody's roster spot is safe.

Wells probably would be released or traded if he loses the job at center. Preston's two-year, $2 million contract didn't include a signing bonus. Barbre and/or Moll would be expendable if one or both fail to win the job at right tackle. Meredith figures to have a short leash if some of the personality issues that allegedly cropped up at South Carolina continue in Green Bay. McCaskill is a 315-pound unknown.

Bill's prediction

Starters: Clifton, Colledge, Spitz, Sitton, Giacomini.

Reserves: Meredith, Lang, Preston, Moll.


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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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