Tonight's test against Buffalo could be the decisive game in the Packers' offensive line competition.
With Scott Wells and Jason Spitz battling at center, Spitz and Josh Sitton battling at right guard and Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini battling at right tackle, the Packers play their second preseason game tonight against the Buffalo Bills.
Green Bay's offensive line dominated Cleveland's 3-4 defense last week. Tonight, they'll face the Bills' 4-3 alignment. Plus, Buffalo is playing its third preseason game, which will increase the challenge. With a game against each defensive scheme, the coaches will be in position to select their starting five ahead of next week's game at Arizona. The Packers traditionally use that third preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, so it stands to reason that tonight's matchup with the Bills could decide those line battles.
While the coaches say no timetable is in place, but clearly time is running short if they want a cohesive group in place for Week 1 against Chicago. Only six practices remain until the preseason finale against Tennessee.
"The opener's the 13th," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We have some time. At some point, we're going to make a decision when coach (Mike McCarthy) is comfortable and has seen enough and we have enough good tape to evaluate, I'm sure those decisions are going to be made. We're not going to be able to play seven guys out there on the first play against the Bears. When that time comes, I'm sure we'll have five."
While Wells is listed atop the depth chart and got the start against Cleveland, Spitz appears to have the edge at center. That's in part because Spitz has been getting so many more reps with Wells still on a one-a-day schedule after missing all of the offseason after shoulder surgery.
Wells played two series at center against Cleveland while Spitz played one at center and one at right guard. The Packers scored a touchdown on each of Spitz's possessions while the Packers scored a touchdown on Wells' first series at center and missed a field goal during Wells' second stint, mostly because of penalties against Tony Moll (false start), Sitton (ineligible man downfield) and Barbre (lined up off the line of scrimmage).
Wells, who has started 52 games at center over the last four seasons, is taking it as motivation.
"Anytime someone questions my ability, it fires me up," said the former seventh-round pick, who gained about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason to answer this challenge. "This isn't the first time that this has happened. It's the first time recently, but there's been people my whole career who've always said, ‘Can he do this? Can he do that? Can he do this?' You always have to answer them. I really try not to listen to people outside the team. I encourage my family not to also, because when they do, they call and ask me questions and I don't like answering them."
Spitz is taking it all in stride. While most of his 41 starts over three seasons have come at right guard, he's also started at center and left guard. He says he's not more comfortable at one position over another because of his lengthy experience at right guard and because of all of the reps he's taken at center since May.
"They'll tell us when they tell us," Spitz said. "They've got a lot to look at. We've got a lot of talented guys, we've got a lot of depth now. They've got a tough decision. Who's playing where and who's playing next to who?"
Sitton is listed as the backup right guard, but he's taken a majority of the No. 1 steps at the position for the same reason that Spitz has taken the majority of snaps at center. Sitton, who had won the job last training camp before spraining a knee in a preseason game at Denver, adds a fiery presence that the Packers desire as they hope to field a more physical offense.
"He did a good job in the offseason with his weight," Campen said. "He worked hard with that. Josh is a very aware player. He sees things. Things don't fool him very often. Josh has done very well."
"He's worked extremely hard and is over the ankle thing," Campen said of Giacomini. "You've got to look at it too that Breno was in the mix from the beginning, it's just he was injured. We've got two young players that are going to slug it out."
The towering 6-foot-7 Giacomini, a fifth-round pick last year, said he felt "really rusty" during his first week of camp, but had improved to the point where he was splitting the first-team reps with Barbre by the end of this week. He said he never felt as if an opportunity had slipped away with his inability to practice in the spring, but he knew all of that lost time had put Barbre in a good position.
"That's the worst thing," Giacomini said of missing organized team activities and the minicamp. "That's when you get time with the coach and you get better as an individual, with the team, with the people you're going to play with. It's just not a good feeling."
Barbre, who had what Campen called a "steady" performance in playing the entire first half against the Browns, might be reaching a tipping point in his career. He was given a chance to start at left guard last season but never got close to beating out Daryn Colledge. Now, with a huge head-start on Giacomini, if he loses this opportunity, his time in Green Bay might be over.
"We feel comfortable with Allen," McCarthy said. "There's some technical things he needs to work on as far as his game evaluation, but I think he's been pretty consistent and very physical."
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