Figuring out which five players will comprise Green Bay’s starting offensive line next season is the hot topic among die hard fans these days. And why shouldn’t it be? With only left tackle Chad Clifton and right guard Josh Sitton secure in their positions, debating the strengths and weaknesses of Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Scott Wells, Mark Tauscher and T.J. Lang makes for a fascinating discussion. “I think as I sit here today, we’ll be much better in that area,” opined coach Mike McCarthy about his offensive line. “We better be. I can’t go through 50 sacks again. That was unbelievable.” It sure as heck was. Fortunately, the Packers are in much better shape today than they were 12 months ago. Clifton has had a surgery-free offseason for the first time in years, Wells is completely healthy after spending last spring rehabbing his shoulder, Tauscher is back in the fold after dipping his toe (and injured left knee) into the unrestricted free agency waters a year ago and Lang figures to only get better after a very promising rookie season.
While things are definitely looking up, there are still some issues with the offensive line. For one, unless general manager Ted Thompson drafts a legitimate backup left tackle later this month, Lang will be forced to take snaps behind Clifton all spring and summer. That would take the former Eastern Michigan star out of the competition at either left guard or right tackle. “Lang practiced at three different positions as a rookie and he still managed to hold his own during games,” said a former scout. “That says something about the young man. I’d love to see what he could do if given the chance to hone his skills at one spot. My hunch is that he’d outplay either Colledge and Spitz at left guard or Tauscher at right tackle.” Unfortunately, there’s a chance we may never find out if this is true.
Another issue is how the offensive line will run block. Projected starters Clifton and Tauscher weren’t very good in this area a year ago, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll improve at this stage of their respective careers. “Taucher might be marginally better because his knee figures to be stronger, but remember, he wasn’t moving too many people off the ball before he got hurt late in the 2008 season,” said the scout. “As for Clifton, he gave up trying to block for the run a long time ago. These days, just making an effort is considered a plus.” And while Colledge, Spitz and Wells aren’t awful in this part of the game, none of the three will be confused with run-graders any time soon. “Look, the Packers aren’t going to dominate the line of scrimmage against very many front fours,” added the scout. “They’ll need to throw the ball effectively in order to soften up the defense and give the solid but unspectacular Ryan Grant some big holes to run through.”
So while the backup left tackle position is an issue right now and the ability to block for the run figures to be an issue throughout the upcoming season, neither should be able to derail an offense that has a chance to be exceptional in 2010. Few teams can match the firepower of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight end Jermichael Finley and receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Even more importantly, few defenses will be able to handle all those weapons. “The only thing that stopped the offense last season was the inability of the line to protect Rodgers,” said the scout. “When the quarterback wasn’t on his back or running for his life, the offense moved the ball up and down the field almost effortlessly. The Packers don’t need the line to be great; they just need the line to be OK.” With a healthy Clifton, a healthy Wells and a healthy Tauscher, being OK seems far more likely today than it did a year ago when Allen “The Human Turnstile” Barbre and Breno “The American Idle” Giacomini were being counted on to play significant roles.