Of all of the Packers' returning players, few are in a more awkward position than Tony Moll.
Moll spent all of the offseason practices as the starting left tackle. That, however, has been Chad Clifton's position for the previous nine seasons. Meanwhile, the Packers presumably will have new starters at positions where Moll has filled in — at right guard, where he started three games last season and 11 for his career, and right tackle, where he started two games last season and seven for his career — but he was not part of those battles.
So where does Moll stand? Will he stay at left tackle once Clifton is ready to roll after offseason procedures on his knees — and is he even equipped to handle the position? Does he have any chance at all at right guard and right tackle, positions where the Packers appear happy with Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre as preliminary starters, Breno Giacomini ready to challenge Barbre and rookie T.J. Lang a solid option at both spots?
"It's hard to say," Moll said during the June 22-24 minicamp. "Chad's played here for nine years. He's gone to a Pro Bowl playing this position for the Packers. It's hard to say. All I can do is play for myself and try to play as hard as I can. If it ends up that I start or am backing up the left side this year, then that's what will be happening."
What's not uncertain is Moll's versatility. On an offensive line highlighted by the players' ability to switch spots at a moment's notice, Moll has started at right guard and right tackle and played left guard when Daryn Colledge has slid out to left tackle to replace Clifton. And now, he's coming off of five weeks of practicing exclusively at left tackle.
"I think being universal has finally paid off," Moll said. "Moving around to almost every position except for center and landed at left tackle. I'm enjoying it. It's definitely fun. You've still got to learn every position just for that possibility of having to be switched around, but just to focus at one position is definitely nice."
Still, there's one overriding question: Could Moll really play left tackle, either as a starter or an in-game fill-in for Clifton? Left tackle is the offensive line's most critical position because he must stop the game's top pass rushers while protecting the quarterback's blind side.
Considering Moll's inability to take hold of the right tackle position last season after Mark Tauscher went down in December with a torn ACL, that seems unlikely. Moll started against Jacksonville and Chicago. The Packers lost both games and averaged about 2.5 yards per carry in those games.
Obviously, all of that can't be pinned on Moll, but he was replaced by Colledge for the season finale against Detroit. While the coaches disagree with this line of reasoning, logic would dictate that if Moll were a serious contender at right tackle, he would have taken more than zero reps there during offseason practices.
"It's the stuff that you don't see," offensive line coach James Campen said. "It's the work that he's put in. That kid is now 307, 308. He's done a great job in the weight room. He's smart. He's been at right guard, left guard, left tackle, right tackle. He has tremendous value to this team. Don't count him out for anything, either. The kid has played very well."
But if Moll couldn't handle right tackle, how can he be a serious possibility at left tackle?
"I think Tony Moll is definitely someone you always factor into competing for a starting position," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just look at how much he's played since he's been here. Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game. Tony has done a very nice job at left tackle, and I think Tony has finally benefited from lining up and playing one position for a long period of time, meaning five or six weeks."
Moll, who started at tight end at Nevada, may be athletic enough to play left tackle, and he stood out during OTAs and minicamp by not standing out. In other words, you didn't notice him because he was getting beat every other play. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers lauded Moll for his energy and enthusiasm. But shorts-and-helmets practices are a long way from doing it for real in a game.
Once Clifton is healthy, it will be interesting to see where Moll winds up in training camp. Will he play well enough to actually challenge the 33-year-old Clifton? Will he be thrown into the fray at right guard or right tackle? Will he remain a versatile backup, able to fill in at four spots? Or was he playing left tackle simply because the Packers needed someone, and the Packers have seen enough of him in 18 career starts to know he's not a viable option?
"Tony is like the rest of those guys. He's fighting for a position on our team, whether it be left tackle or going over and competing at right tackle," McCarthy said. "It's just trying to get away from so many multiple chairs that we've had up front. It's definitely a plus. It's a benefit to train younger players like that because it gives you flexibility going from the 53 to the 45, but where we are in our program now from an offensive line standpoint, we are creating competition as much as we can across the line."
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