Will the O-Line Be All Right?

With two starts between them, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Allen Barbre will be challenged by veterans Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris.

The Packers' new-look offensive line is, indeed, new.

Introducing your new starting right guard, Josh Sitton, who started two games last season as a rookie. And he's a grizzled veteran compared to the starting right tackle, Allen Barbre, who will be making his first career start on Sunday night against the Chicago Bears.

"Oh, yeah, I'm real excited," Barbre said. "I'm anxious to get out there and play against a big rival. I'm looking forward to it."

Sitton and Barbre will be facing a major challenge. Barbre will spend much of the game matched against veteran defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. Sitton will see plenty of the rejuvenated Tommie Harris, a Pro Bowler from 2005 through 2007.

For an offense, success or failure almost always falls on the shoulders of the line. For the Bears, their defensive success is predicated on the front four's ability to get into the offensive backfield.

"It's a challenge every week," Sitton said. "As you know, the margin for error in this league is very small. Everyone's really good, so it's a challenge every week. That's why the season is such a grind. There's not an easy week at all."

The Packers' offensive line dominated the Bears' defensive line in the November matchup at Lambeau Field. In Green Bay's 37-3 win, Ryan Grant ran wild with 145 yards and Brandon Jackson added 50 as the Packers rushed for 200 yards as a team. The Bears finished with only three tackles for losses — two by right end Alex Brown and one by Harris.

A month later, the Bears turned the tables in a 20-17 overtime win. Grant was limited to 61 yards and the Packers were held to 65 on 2.2 yards per attempt. Chicago tallied eight tackles for losses — including three by Harris.

That November butt-kicking sticks in the craws of Ogunleye and Co.

"We've been watching that film the last two weeks now," Ogunleye told reporters in Chicago. "They just ran the ball down our throat and gave it to us pretty good. You guys will see on Sunday how we're going to attack the run. It starts with the front four guys. It's not a new scheme. It's a new attitude. The key is, when we get there, we have to tackle."

In those games, Scott Wells was at center, Jason Spitz at right guard and Mark Tauscher at right tackle. Wells is now on the bench, Spitz is at center and Tauscher is out of football.

Is newer necessarily better? Combined, Tauscher (120), Spitz (41) and Wells (54) started 215 games. Combined, Spitz, Sitton and Barbre have started 43 games. Take away Spitz's starts at right and left guard, and the trio have only eight starts at the three positions.

"I'm comfortable with the right side of our line," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday. "The tryouts are over and they've had three weeks to generate some continuity, and I feel like they're ready to go."

Barbre, a third-year player from Division II Missouri Southern State, is a physical upgrade over Tauscher but he's clearly on the short end of the experience stick against Ogunleye (105 career starts, 60.5 career sacks). While Barbre struggled at times during training camp against the Packers' attacking defense, he had a strong preseason.

"It gave me quite a bit of confidence, just getting comfortable," Barbre said. "Going out there and being assignment-sure, that's going to be big. That's for sure going to be important against those guys."

Josh Sitton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Sitton, a fourth-round pick out of Central Florida last year, started one game by emergency last season, at Tennessee when he opened at right guard when the line was shuffled at the last minute after left tackle Chad Clifton became ill. Sitton was the starter at right guard by design in the season finale against Detroit, when Daryn Colledge swung out to right tackle and Spitz moved from right guard to left guard. Sitton showed promise in those games, with the Packers being one of only a handful of teams to average at least 4.0 yards per carry against Tennessee and then piling up 212 rushing yards against the lowly Lions.

"It does help getting to start a couple of times and the four preseason games this year," Sitton said. "It helps, just confidence-wise, to know that I can do it and know that I can get out there and play and perform."

Even with mostly the same cast of characters — only third-round defensive tackle Jaron Gilbert was added — the Bears have something of a new look on defense. Ousted Lions head coach Rod Marinelli landed in Chicago to coach the defensive line. Harris had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in March, and when he's on his game, he's a disruptive force. He had eight sacks in 2007, leading to a four-year, $40 million contract extension. Last year, he fell back to five sacks, and without his consistent pressure, the Bears' defense resorted to blitzing. Like the Packers last year, those blitzes failed more often than not and the secondary was picked apart as a result.

With Smith handing himself the reins of the defense and with Marinelli added to the staff, the feeling in Chicago is that the defense will be significantly better than last year's 21st-ranked group.

"The biggest key about that is he's calling guys out," Ogunleye said of Smith. "When we do mess up, we call out the person in front of the whole team and in front of the whole defense, and that's good because everybody's being held accountable."

In a battle pitting two teams that have become chic picks to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, the verdict in this critical season-opener might be rendered by how well the inexperienced Sitton and Barbre perform against the experienced Ogunleye and Harris.

"I'm excited. Looking forward to it a lot," Sitton said. "It's a Sunday night game, it's pretty exciting. I'm ready to see what I can do."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.

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