McCarthy Voices Confidence in Offensive Line

The cogs from last year's stretch run are returning, with Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher back in the fold. About the only mystery is at left guard, where Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz or even T.J. Lang could vie for the job. Plus, an early pick seems likely.

Injuries and inconsistencies conspired to put the Packers' offensive line in constant flux for most of last season. They used six different starting combinations.

Those same nuisances could rear their ugly heads again next season, but coach Mike McCarthy feels the unit will be better equipped to handle any more upheaval.

"I know the competition along that line will be the best that we have had during my time in Green Bay," said McCarthy, in his fifth year on the job. "That's all you can ask for. You try to rotate them the right way, and you try to get that starting five."

McCarthy acknowledged at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., that keeping the same top five linemen intact for a full season — something that has eluded him in his tenure — isn't likely to happen in 2010, either.

The Packers rolled the dice this offseason by re-signing veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, both unrestricted free agents, to long-term contracts. They have been competent starters since they were rookies in 2000, but recent injury setbacks and advanced age are working against them.

"History will tell you that Chad Clifton is not going to play 16 games," McCarthy said.

Clifton, who has been hampered by knee and ankle injuries in the past, last played a full season in 2007.

Yet, he returns to the Packers as the starter at left tackle, just as Tauscher remains the starter at right tackle. He is a little more than a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery that kept him sidelined until the second half of last season.

Green Bay is more settled on the inside with Josh Sitton at right guard and Scott Wells at center. McCarthy said they were the team's best linemen in 2009.

What happens at left guard is up in the air. Incumbent starter Daryn Colledge, whose play regressed down the stretch last season, and Jason Spitz are restricted free agents who remain unsigned. Spitz was the starting center to open last season but suffered a season-ending back injury after Week 4 and gave way to Wells, who had lost his longtime job to Spitz in the preseason.

The wild card is T.J. Lang, a versatile lineman who had practice and game reps at three positions as a rookie last year and started a total of three games at the two tackle spots.

Although Lang is a natural tackle, the uncertainty of Colledge and Spitz's future with the team perhaps prompted McCarthy to tout Lang's attributes as a left guard.

"I think T.J.'s long-term (position) is at guard," McCarthy said. "I think he is a natural left guard when I look at his body, but he is young (22). He needs to develop strength to hit that because he is a very young second-year player."

Lang also will be in the mix to challenge Tauscher for the starting job at right tackle, but for now, McCarthy is looking at Lang to be the backup to Clifton on the left side.

That would change should the Packers put a high-round priority on drafting a starting tackle of the future in the draft, which seems likely based on comments McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson made at the league meetings.

"I would think so," McCarthy said of taking a tackle, "but crazier things have happened through the draft.

"A guy in T.J. Lang, where does he compete this year?" McCarthy added. "There is a lot of conversation about that young man. What is going to happen in the draft? That may affect the rotation, too. I clearly think that we could have almost two guys per position competing for starting spots. That's a very good situation to be in."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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