STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOUTHby Jerry Gilbert
This article is a commentary on the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers. As matters now stand in early July of 2006, it appears that the middle of the offensive line will be manned by rookie Daryn Colledge, third year draftee Scott Wells and another rookie, Jason Spitz. It has been said that youth must be served, but this is not a situation that will help quarterback Brett Favre sleep at night. The current top reserve at both guard positions is second year player Junius Coston.
The fine left and right offensive tackles for Green Bay, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher may also miss some sleep should Donald Driver, Bubba Franks or both of them sustain an injury. Imagine a skill position group of Robert Ferguson, Rod Gardner and David Martin. Tauscher, one to the best examples of Packer People we may ever see, will have to be thinking, clowns to the left of me jokers to the right, here I am.
How bad is the offensive line situation? Youth alone is not a disqualifier. Both Tauscher and Clifton played well as rookies. Turning to the experience of another franchise, New England had a good season in 2005 starting two rookies in its offensive line, although they did not reach the Super Bowl as in years when veterans were in those positions. On the other hand, Scott Wells, who played both at left guard and center, and rookie William Whitticker, who started t at right guard last year, did not impress the coaches or the fans, and Junius Coston was not considered ready to challenge for a starting role. These players are young. Wells has played in about half the games the last two seasons. Spitz and Colledge have played in none. Coston was inactive for most games and only saw action for a few plays. These players have only the training camp and preseason games to develop competence as individuals and cohesion as a group. They will have to accomplish this with no significant reservoir of NFL experience to assist them.
The fact that offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is installing an entirely new blocking scheme adds to the problem. Without that additional source of novelty and probable confusion, players such as Adrian Klemm, Tauscher and Clifton could provide many pointers to the young players. As matters stand, the veterans will have enough challenge simply learning their own positions, and little time or expertise to advise the newcomers.
Scott Wells has said he played in a zone blocking system as an undergraduate at Tennessee. It helps if the leader of the group has some understanding of what is required from the beginning, but a similar college system could still be quite different. Time will tell if this experience is of much benefit.
Events of the preseason have not improved the situation. Kevin Barry, who probably could not play guard in this offense anyway, was the only veteran guard candidate on the roster, and he sustained a season ending injury. His injury also reduces the likelihood of moving Mark Tauscher to guard, because Barry was the best alternative at tight tackle.
Moreover, the fact that Chad Clifton and his backup Adrian Klemm are both sitting out with injuries, means that the young lineman are working in with the equally inexperienced William Whitticker who is filling in at left tackle. No one can blame Whitticker who lacks experience at tackle as well as in a zone system. Four fifths of the starting group, and all the top reserves right now are very young players.
I think general manager Ted Thompson sees the problem. He did make a run at veteran Ross Verba, the former Packer draft choice who sat out last season in a contract dispute with Cleveland. Verba has since signed with Detroit. I suspect he is waiting to find a surplus lineman from Denver, Atlanta or another zone team. There are usually some serviceable veterans who are available as younger cheaper players prove themselves in preseason play. The problem is that these teams can see what I see, and they may be slow to release a likely candidate in hopes of working a trade for a Packer Draft choice.
I do not believe that the Packers want to risk a situation in which a young player is struggling and there is no veteran to replace him. That is the current situation. Until a veteran is added, the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers will be stuck in the middle with youth.