There's no sugarcoating it: Right tackle is a major issue for the Packers.
During his nine seasons in Green Bay, Mark Tauscher started 120 games at the position. The four primary contenders to replace him — Breno Giacomini, Allen Barbre, Tony Moll and T.J. Lang — have played in only 55 games in their professional careers. Moll, with seven starts, is the only one of the four to have started an NFL game at right tackle.
Adding injury to insult, the early frontrunner for the position, Giacomini, might not be able to practice until training camp due to offseason ankle surgery.
"Oh, yeah," Giacomini, a fifth-round draft pick last year, said Thursday when asked if he was frustrated by the predicament. "Yeah. I love football. I like to watch it, but when I can be out there playing, I'd rather be playing. But injuries are part of the game and you've got to take it slow, because if you don't, you'll come back and hurt something else or reinjure that injury, than you're out for two, three more months. Taking three steps back when you're really supposed to be taking two steps forward."
On paper, Giacomini appears ready for the challenge. After enduring a training camp that can be described only as bad — opposing defensive linemen too often treated him like a turnstile on the way to the quarterback — Giacomini spent the season honing his craft by facing Aaron Kampman every day at practice.
"Breno did a heck of a job," offensive line coach James Campen said on Thursday. "He also had to go against one of the best defensive ends in football, Aaron Kampman, every single day. He improved. He hit about Week 6 or 7, his game went up a lot. He was starting to block Aaron Kampman, and just battling against him made him a better player."
With 37 sacks over the previous three seasons, Kampman clearly is one of the better defensive players in the league. If Giacomini can hold his own against Kampman, he should be well-equipped to handle most players.
"Everything," Giacomini said Thursday when asked in what areas he's improved. "I'm not nearly where I need to be and I need to get there, but definitely stronger, mentally, know the playbook. It's a new year, it's a new me. I feel a lot more confident than I did last year."
Other points in Giacomini's corner are his intelligence (24 Wonderlic coming out of Louisville), athleticism (he spent his first two years at Louisville playing tight end) and strength. The 6-foot-7 Giacomini is up 8 pounds from last year to 311.
On the other side of the equation, Giacomini is inexperienced. He started only one year at right tackle in college. He was on the game-day roster only twice last season and never played a meaningful snap from scrimmage.
And now, with a chance to seize control of the position, he's out as he recovers from ankle surgery. Training camp is the target for his return. "Anything before that will be a bonus," he said. If he misses all of OTAs and the June minicamp, he'll be 15 practices and hundreds of reps behind the others.
Barbre, who played in two games at left guard last season and never has played right tackle in his life, took all of the first-team reps on Thursday. Moll, who started five games last season, including two at right tackle, took the No. 1 reps at left tackle in place of veteran Chad Clifton. Rookie fourth-round pick Lang worked with the second team at right tackle and right guard. Campen also likes undrafted Dane Randolph from Maryland.
Giacomini doesn't see any reason why he can't beat out the others. But if he considers himself the favorite for the job, he's not showing it.
"I just see it as I've got to go out there and play football and I've got to keep getting better every day," he said. "That's not in my hands. That's upstairs with the coaches. All I can show is that I can play football and whoever wins that, wins that."
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