Go right, young running back
With a healthy Ryan Grant and an ascending James Starks, coach Mike McCarthy will have a pair of talented 220-pound backs at his disposal next season. But in order for the Packers to go from middling to magnificent in the running game, tackle Chad Clifton and/or guard Daryn Colledge will have to be replaced. To be fair, center Scott Wells isn’t much better when it comes to moving defenders at the point of attack, but he’s invaluable – at least for now – because of his ability to make the proper calls up front. That leaves the two vets to his left.
Clifton and Colledge were responsible for 35 “bad” runs in 2010. A bad run is defined as a gain of 1 yard or less, not counting goal-line, short-yardage or kneel-down plays. Conversely, the right side of the line – Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga and Mark Tauscher combined for only 25 bad runs. And that was with a rookie (Bulaga) starting 16 games.
Clifton was named to his second Pro Bowl in December, but that was based solely on his ability to pass protect – not to mention the lack of quality tackles in the NFC. The 34-year-old wasn’t much of a run blocker a decade ago, and that was before countless knee, ankle and shoulder surgeries ravaged his body. Clifton’s feet are still quick enough to keep even the top pass rushers at bay, but he can no longer bend his knees. That, along with a career-long tendency to catch and absorb contact, makes getting consistent movement in his run blocks very difficult.
Colledge tries harder than Clifton in the running game, but he lacks the size, strength and athleticism to be very good at it. He’s a former tight end and he often run blocks like one. Colledge doesn’t play with much bend or power, too often rising and playing straight-legged. And for whatever reason, his mechanics tend to deteriorate in space, causing him to struggle to initiate contact and sustain blocks on the second level.
It’s doubtful general manager Ted Thompson would decide to replace both Clifton and Colledge. That would be a lot of change for a group that was good enough this season to get Green Bay to the Super Bowl. The likelihood is that Clifton will be kept around for one more year and Colledge will be allowed to leave as an unrestricted free agent. Surprisingly, the player on the current roster with the best chance to start at left guard in 2011 is probably Nick McDonald, an undrafted free agent from Grand Valley State who made the 53-man roster out of training camp but was inactive all season.
-stats courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel