Most plays during practice, the Green Bay Packers' offensive line consists of the venerable Chad Clifton at left tackle, fourth-year pro Daryn Colledge at left guard, fourth-year pro Jason Spitz at center, second-year pro Josh Sitton at right guard and third-year pro Allen Barbre at right tackle.
Even without Mark Tauscher, the experience is in place. It's time to put up or shut up for this offensive line and their position coach James Campen.
These Packers want to be more physical and play with more toughness. Campen, following suit with a scruffy beard, acknowledges that this is a defining year for his group.
"Absolutely. I just think that the young tag was off last year," Campen said. "That group of kids, Tony (Moll) and Daryn and Jason and that group, those guys are now fourth-year guys. So it's time for that group of linemen to show what it is."
A Pro Bowler in 2007, Clifton allowed more sacks and was penalized more often in 2008 as he fought through aching knees, aching shoulders, a hamstring injury and throbbing thumbs. Offseason surgeries to clean out both knees and both shoulders seem to have helped Clifton, making the 10th-year pro the least of the Packers' problems up front.
Neither Colledge nor Spitz have played to a consistently high level. Sitton is 322 pounds of rugged potential. Barbre is 305 pounds of muscular question mark in getting the first crack at replacing the popular and productive Tauscher.
"Whether critics think we're the weakest link or not, I think we're motivated as an offensive line unit just because we want to be more a productive unit than we were last year," Colledge said. "We want to get some things done. We thought we threw the ball extremely well but we want to run the ball better. We all know that we have certain improvements to make as a unit but we've got a lot of improvements to make individually."
Colledge has yet to put together a lengthy stretch of superior play. He's always been intelligent and athletic, and he's gotten stronger during each offseason. Now, for the first time since setting foot in Green Bay, he's being locked into left guard, with Moll being the fill-in player when Clifton gets a practice off.
"We've had a lot of problems with injury and inconsistency — myself, I'll be the first to raise my hand," Colledge said after Saturday's canceled scrimmage. "I've had a couple of games that weren't the best ever. I'm not proud of them."
Spitz, who like Colledge has been moved around the line for his first three seasons, is mostly focusing at center, though he's moved back to his old spot at right guard when veteran center Scott Wells is inserted with the first unit. Like Colledge, Spitz has played inconsistently, and the hope is that eventually focusing Spitz at one spot will help.
Either way, this is the pivotal year for Colledge and Spitz. Either the team finds out that they are above-average NFL starters, or they find new guys for next season.
"After three years, you know as a player," Campen said point-blank. "Just because you're a 10th-year player, it doesn't mean you can't improve, but you can kind of see this is what it is. Hey, your fourth year, you've got to show."
Sitton adds a don't-mess-with-me mentality at right guard — as evidenced by his over-the-top reaction to the big training camp fight last week when he belted linebacker Brady Poppinga over the head with his helmet. Sitton remembers struggling through the "wow factor" as a rookie, when he started two games after losing the starting job with a preseason knee injury. Coach Mike McCarthy wants his line to be more physical, and the team's counting on Sitton to provide that toughness. But only if he shows intelligence.
"You can have all the physical tools and look great and this and that and bench 1,000 pounds, but mentally, you've got to know your stuff and how to adjust," Sitton said. "Defenses are constantly changing and constantly doing things, and you've got to be able to adjust to that."
At right tackle, Barbre was one of the standouts of the offseason practices. But those shorts-and-helmets are a far cry from the rigors of training camp, and Barbre appears to have taken a step back. Barbre handled Aaron Kampman throughout the offseason but Kampman has been taking it to Barbre on a daily basis this summer. Breno Giacomini has taken some reps with the No. 1 unit during the last couple of practices.
For his part, Campen said Barbre is "progressing nicely." The question that will be answered during training camp is if Barbre is struggling because he's facing Kampman or if he's just struggling, period.
At some point soon, the coaches need to move forward with either Wells or Spitz at center, Spitz or Sitton at right guard and Barbre or Giacomini at right tackle.
"As an offensive line, we want to have cohesion," Colledge said. "The sooner the better. We'd love to have five guys that are going to be in there and are going to be in there for a long time. You look at great NFL lines around the league, and it's teams that have played 20, 30 games. Those are the guys that get the real cohesion."
This group has been in the league long enough. Presumably, it will get the cohesion that is McCarthy's primary goal. There will be no more excuses. The time to talk is over.
"We're excited about what this offensive line can do this year," Colledge said. "We're going to be ready to go this season. We're amped up."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.