Fine Line But New Questions

Coming off their best performance of the season, what do the Packers do at left tackle, right tackle and center? Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher and Jason Spitz all could be back for this week's showdown against Minnesota.

Offensive line coach James Campen wouldn't even take a nibble at the question.

The Green Bay Packers had thumped the Cleveland Browns 31-0 the day before. Scott Wells had just put together his third consecutive strong performance at center, but regular starter Jason Spitz is expected to return after missing the last two games with low-back spasms.

There was no chance Campen would unveil the Packers' plan for this week's monster game against Minnesota while talking to reporters on Monday. But would he even say whether he's got an inkling on which direction he is leaning?

"Absolutely not," he said with a laugh.

With Spitz and veteran left tackle Chad Clifton (ankle) on the bench, the Packers put together their best offensive performance of the season at Cleveland. Green Bay rushed for a season-high 202 yards and 4.9 yards per attempt on a whopping 41 rushes. Not only did Wells and backup left tackle T.J. Lang help pave the way for Ryan Grant's 148 rushing yards, but for the first time all season, Aaron Rodgers wasn't sacked.

So with the rematch against the Vikings and their formidable front seven on tap, what do the Packers do with their offensive line? Do they hope Clifton is healthy enough to face stud defensive end Jared Allen, who took advantage of Clifton's absence to maul Rodgers for 4.5 sacks in their first matchup? Or do they give another start to fourth-round rookie T.J. Lang, who didn't encounter many problems against the Browns?

At center, do the Packers go with Wells, who is playing extremely well? Or do they go back to Spitz, who won the job in training camp?

And that's not even mentioning right tackle, where veteran Mark Tauscher has been cleared to be a full participant at practice and could challenge Allen Barbre for the starting job.

Coach Mike McCarthy said the starting point at practice this week will be the line that was on the field on Sunday. But plenty can change between Wednesday and Sunday.

"As a coach, you always want to get your best players on the field, whoever that might be," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I'm not saying that means we're going to switch guys. I'm not saying that means we're going to stick with the same guys. I think your responsibility as a coach is to give your players the best plan and the best chance to win. Usually, that involves playing the best guys. I think we'll figure that out."

The decision at left tackle is probably pretty well cut-and-dried. In the biggest game of the season, the Packers no doubt would prefer Clifton's veteran savvy. So, if he's healthy enough to deal with Allen's burst off the line of scrimmage and is at low risk of aggravating the injury like he did a week ago against Detroit, he'll almost certainly reclaim his starting position. The hope is Clifton will be able to practice on Friday.

Lang, however, was superb in his starting debut. Campen liked Lang's back-side blocking in the run game and how he handled the on-the-fly adjustments on the sideline. The coaches did nothing from a game-planning or blocking perspective to help Lang.

"It's hard to judge things after one game but he certainly played well," Campen said. "We feel confident with him in there right now."

The decision at right tackle will be intriguing. Outside of a couple of mental breakdowns against Detroit — huge breakdowns that led to sacks — Barbre has played much better the last few weeks. Against Minnesota, Ray Edwards — the unsung fourth player on the Vikings' defensive line — was mostly neutralized by Barbre, and he stopped Allen in his tracks on a handful of snaps.

Will Tauscher be ready to go? And would the Packers have Tauscher's debut come in such a big game?

Wells will open the week as the starting center. In his last three games, Wells kept the Vikings' Pat Williams completely off the stat sheet, held his own against the Lions' massive Grady Jackson and won most of his battles against Cleveland's massive and fleet-footed Shaun Rogers on Sunday.

"He played very well," Campen said of Wells. "When you look at who he's playing against, Shaun Rogers, that guy's a very fine football player. Just the abilities that he has, he can move for a 360-pound guy, and he blocked him very well."


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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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