Packer Report continues its position-by-position training camp preview with a look at the offensive line. The list after "depth" includes all of the players on the current roster. The list after "final cut" is our prediction on who will make the final roster, with the number of players based on past seasons.
Depth (14): Allen Barbre, Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Breno Giacomini, Andrew Hartline, T.J. Lang, Jamon Meredith, Tony Moll, Duke Preston, Dane Randolph, Josh Sitton, Jason Spitz, Scott Wells.
Review: After reaching the NFC championship game the year before, last season was a disappointment for the Packers in general and the offensive line specifically. Despite a bigger emphasis on the running game — leading to 49 more rushing attempts — the Packers averaged the same 4.1 yards per carry. The sack total increased from 19 in 2007 to 34 in 2008, though some of that can be attributed to the change at quarterback. The play of offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher declined. Clifton started 15 games — the only game he missed was because of a bad reaction to medicine — but he no longer was the standout pass blocker who had protected Brett Favre's blind side so capably for eight seasons. The coaches elected to rest Clifton for more than one-third of the training camp practices and frequently during the course of the first half of the season, which led to an unsettled line because Clifton wasn't getting a ton of practice reps and Colledge was forced to spend many practices at left tackle rather than left guard. Like Colledge, Jason Spitz started at three spots, which also affected continuity. Center Scott Wells started the final 13 games, but the Packers statistically were a better running team when Spitz either started at center or replaced an injured Wells. Tauscher started the first 13 games at right tackle before tearing the ACL in his left knee against Houston. Tauscher wasn't having his best season by a long shot, but without him, the Packers' running game was deplorable with Tony Moll starting in Week 15 at Jacksonville (3.0-yard average; long run of 9 yards) and in Week 16 at Chicago (2.2 average; long of 12).
Strength: If you believe the coaches, the strength is in the numbers. Seven of the Packers' linemen have started in the NFL and two promising rookies were added in the draft. Because of that depth, there will be competition at three positions: Wells vs. Spitz at center, Josh Sitton vs. T.J. Lang at right guard and Barbre vs. Lang and Breno Giacomini at right tackle. The interior of the line is considered a strength. Colledge is considered by most insiders to be an ascending talent and Sitton adds a tough and nasty presence. Between Spitz and Wells, they've started 95 games, so that figures to be a hot battle at center. Spitz and Colledge played every snap on offense last season. The 33-year-old Clifton's best years might be behind him, but he remains a decent run blocker. If offseason surgery to clean out both knees was successful, he could have at least one more quality year in him. The versatility is tremendous, with Duke Preston having played all three interior spots and Moll having played everywhere but center.
Weakness: Question marks abound, with new faces at three positions and an aging veteran manning the most important spot. The biggest questions revolve around Clifton. Is he athletic enough and healthy enough to handle the likes of Jared Allen? And if he's not healthy, coach Mike McCarthy's goal of building continuity up front will be thrown out the window because Colledge figures to be next in line at the position. Colledge started at left tackle against Tennessee last season, with Green Bay rushing for 102 yards (4.3 average) and allowing four sacks. Other than Clifton, the only natural left tackle on the roster is fifth-round pick Jamon Meredith, but he's a project. At right guard, Sitton is an unknown commodity. He started against Tennessee and in Week 17 vs. Detroit to mixed reviews. Allen Barbre is an even bigger mystery at right tackle. He's got all the tools you want and dominated Aaron Kampman during offseason practices, but he has a history of being a hot head and he failed to mount even the slightest challenge to Colledge at left guard last year. How's this for a worst-case scenario: Clifton's play slips again and Barbre proves an unworthy successor to Tauscher?
Quoteworthy: "I think it's just creating competition and getting your best five out there," offensive line coach James Campen said. "It's competition. It's time to do it. This group has matured enough to do that."
Final cut (9): Clifton, Colledge, Spitz, Sitton, Barbre, Lang, Meredith, Preston, Giacomini.
The starters figure to be Clifton at left tackle, Colledge at left guard, Spitz at center, Sitton at right guard and Barbre at right tackle, though Lang is a definite wild card in the equation at right guard and right tackle. A couple of decent players aren't going to be here in September. Assuming Spitz wins the job at center, what's the future for Wells, who hasn't played guard since 2005? If Barbre loses this battle, will he be looking for work? What happens to Giacomini, who might have lost his chance to replace Tauscher because of offseason ankle injury? He's only played right tackle while Moll can play everywhere. Moll, however, has proven to be inconsistent in his 18 starts. Preston, a free-agent signing, got only a $150,000 bonus and isn't a sure thing, but he also brings versatility and starting experience.
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