Comparing the North: Offensive lines

The Vikings return all five starters to their offensive line, but the other teams in the NFC North are shaking up their rotation.


Starters - LT Chris Williams, LG Josh Beekman, C Olin Kreutz, RG Roberto Garza, RT Frank Omiyale. Backups - T Kevin Shaffer, G Johan Asiata, G Lance Louis, T James Marten, T J'Marcus Webb, G Vince Vance, T Levi Horn.

Williams, the 2008 first-round pick, is now entrenched at left tackle, Kreutz is back for his 13th year at center, and Garza is back for his sixth straight year of playing next to Kreutz at right guard. Garza is a blue-collar journeyman who works well alongside Kreutz, the six-time Pro Bowler whose play was adversely affected last year by an injured Achilles tendon that required offseason surgery. Omiyale started the ‘09 season at left guard, was benched for four games but came back and showed improvement. But he has been switched to right tackle, which is where he has the most experience and where he should be a better fit. That leaves the left guard spot open. Beekman has started 20 games there but lacks some size and ability to anchor. Experienced Kevin Shaffer filled in at right tackle last season but is no longer considered a quality starter. James Marten could get a look at right tackle. Undrafted free agent Johan Asiata and Lance Louis, a seventh-round pick last year, remain projects but could figure at one of the guard spots down the road, or possibly as soon as this year.


Starters - LT Jeff Backus, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups — T Jon Jansen, T Jason Fox, T Corey Hilliard, G Roy Schuening, G/C Dylan Gandy, G Manny Ramirez, G Trevor Canfield, C Dan Gerberry.

Can Sims solidify the left guard position that has troubled the Lions for the better part of a decade? That's the hope, and training camp will be his first real chance to provide an answer. But the more pressing concern is how Cherilus, the former first-round pick, will respond after struggling with his technique and footwork in an injury-plagued sophomore season. He's also coming off minor knee surgery in April, and he'll be challenged by a 10-year vet in Jansen and, if he's a quick study, rookie Jason Fox, who'll be groomed as the eventual replacement for Backus at left tackle. Peterman's coming off a solid season cut short by an ankle injury, while the backup jobs on the interior are up for grabs with Gandy, Schuening and Ramirez all fighting for roster spots.


Starters — LT Chad Clifton, LG Daryn Colledge, C Scott Wells, RG Josh Sitton, RT Mark Tauscher. Backups — C/G Jason Spitz, T Bryan Bulaga, T/G T.J. Lang, T/G Allen Barbre, T/G Marshall Newhouse, C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith, T Breno Giacomini, T Chris Campbell, G Nick McDonald.

The pressure is on the line to get its act together after it was mostly to blame for putting Rodgers in harm's way with the 50 sacks last season. The veteran combination of Clifton and Tauscher make a difference for the right reasons when they are healthy and on the field, so the Packers were compelled to re-sign them as free agents in the offseason. The team protected itself should Clifton, who hasn't played a full season since 2007, suffer a setback by taking former Iowa standout Bulaga in the first round of the draft. Lang, a non-participant in offseason workouts because of wrist surgery, is expected to be ready for the start of camp and will back up Tauscher. Wells and Sitton are coming off solid seasons. That leaves the Packers to get things solidified at left guard. Colledge has been the primary starter there since his rookie season in 2006, but he will have to fend off a challenge from his pal Spitz, who is recovered from a back injury that cost him the final three months of last season and the starting job at center. Newhouse, a fifth-round draft pick, needs development and is better suited to play guard after starting at left tackle in college.


Starters — LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Phil Loadholt. Backups — G Thomas Austin, G Adrian Battles, T Patrick Brown, T Chris Clark, T Ryan Cook, C Jon Cooper, T Chris DeGeare, T Bill Noethlich, T Drew Radovich.

This unit received some criticism for its performance last season, especially with Sullivan having replaced veteran Matt Birk. Herrera also struggled at times after having shoulder surgery following the 2008 season. The Vikings feel both players will be improved this year. McKinnie and Loadholt provide massive bookends at the tackle spots. Loadholt, a second-round pick in 2009, had a solid rookie season and will be expected to take another step. McKinnie was elected to the Pro Bowl last year but embarrassed himself by getting kicked off the NFC roster when he decided he couldn't play but failed to inform league officials in time for them to find a replacement. Hutchinson, meanwhile, also went to the Pro Bowl but wasn't at his best for much of the season because of a shoulder injury that required surgery after the playoffs. The loss of versatile veteran Artis Hicks will be a blow to the depth on the line. Hicks, who signed with Washington as a free agent, served as the top backup at both guard and tackle spots. The competition to win backup jobs appears to be wide open with Cook having a chance to be the primary fill-in at all five spots on the line. DeGeare, a fifth-round pick out of Wake Forest, eventually could be a guard or tackle.

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