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PACKERDRAFT 2011 OFFENSIVE LINE

Jerry Gilbert
The Green Bay Packer offensive line deserves some discussion. It clearly was good enough to win the Super Bowl, displaying a level of play most teams would gladly accept. On the other hand, it was a line that too often put its Pro Bowl quarterback in jeopardy. It was also a line that could not consistently support a running attack. From another point of view, the two best players last year were center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton. Neither was a serious candidate for the Pro Bowl. Add in the age of two tackles, and this is a unit that may, in the next and future seasons, be good enough, only if the team features a great quarterback and a fine defense that can carry the team. The Packer offensive line could be better.

Looking ahead to the 2011 Draft, the team is set at four positions. Along with Wells and Sitton, tackles Chad Clifton and Brad Bulaga will be starting next season. The one open position is left guard, because Daryn Colledge was allowed to enter free agency. His number one reserve Jason Spitz may also be lost to free agency. Few Packer fans are losing sleep as these players leave. Colledge has never been consistent, and Spitz, a valuable reserve in past seasons, was a total failure when inserted last season.

Thanks to Ted Thompson, there is young talent in reserve, although each player has question marks. T.J Lang filled in adequately last season at left guard and with less success at left tackle. Beset by injuries, Lang did not progress as the coaches had hoped he would last year, but he remains a talented player who has shown that he will give his best effort on every play. We do not know if he can play guard at a high level all season. One complicating issue if Lang is to be the left guard is that he is also the best answer as a reserve offensive tackle. This creates an issue if he is starting at another position. Others in the mix at left guard are two rookies from last season Marshall Newhouse and Nick McDonald and free agent Evan Dietrich Smith. Some believe that the best position for Newhouse is left tackle, which could make him a valuable reserve at more than one position. Veteran tackle Mark Tauscher is still on the roster, but he is unlikely to be on the roster next season.

It is also worth a mention that the Packers are not always successful when it comes to drafting offensive lineman. Even without mentioning Mike Sherman, the names Breno Giocomini, Jamon Meredith and Allen Barbre remind us that all draft choices do not work out. Finally, Ted Thompson seldom drafts a pure guard. Only Josh Sitton played guard in college. Spitz was center and the others played left tackle.

Most observers of the 2011 Draft believe that this is a very good year to draft an offensive tackle and Green Bay is likely to take at least one. This could also be the year to draft another pure guard or a center who could also play guard.

The college tackles who are getting all the press will be long gone when Green Bay makes its first selection. Only if one of them drops into the high 20s could the Packers move down to grab him. That will be one of the dramas of round one. The Fab Five of the offensive line in 2011 are Tyron Smith, Anthony Costanzo, Gabe Carimi, Nate Solder and Derek Sherrod.

Of that group, I would be most interested in seeing either Carimi or Sherrod being available. Gabe Carimi, 6-7 314 Wisconsin is a mauler in the run game who has been coached to also be an effective pass protector. Winner of the Outland Trophy, Carimi was an effective college left tackle, who also showed well as a player and athlete at the Senior Bowl. A point in his favor is his experience against top pass rushers in the Big Ten including J.J. Watt every day in practice. Another positive is that he is a left tackle who should be at home at right tackle or left guard should the need arise.

Derek Sherrod 6-5 321 Mississippi State also has the size to play either tackle. Of all the top rated tackles at the Senior Bowl, Sherrod had the longest arms. He also has three years of competent left tackle play to impress the scouts. Although he does not have Carmis resume as a run blocker, Sherrod should also be able to perform l right away at either tackle or guard.

Rated by some to be in the same class as the top five, but considered by others as a second or third round talent is Benjamin Ijalana 6-4 317 Villanova. At the level he played Ijalana was dominant as both a pass and run blocker. Regrettably, an injury kept him out of the Senior Bowl with the result that scouts have not seen him play against the best college players. Nevertheless the film of his college performance will land him a nice contract.

Another player who some consider to be a late first round possibility is Danny Watkins 6-3 210 Baylor. While Watkins was a tackle in college, he was moved to left guard at the Senior Bowl where he drew high marks for being technically sound and consistent. At Baylor, Watkins started 25 games and was credited with 134 knockdown blocks. He was All Big 12 as a senior. One issue with Watkins is that he sat out 4 years before entering college. He will be a 26 year-old rookie. Watkins may be a good candidate to play left guard and back up at other positions.

James Carpenter 6-4 321 Alabama also merits a round one grade from some scouts. Carpenter had success at the Senior Bowl as a left tackle which suggests that even if he is not of the skill level to play there every day in the NFL, he should be able to play well on the other tackle or at guard. Carpenter was an all conference left tackle for two seasons. Carpenter may be available in the second round.

There are also several possibilities in later rounds although these tackles are less likely to be ready to step in a play immediately. One interesting project is James Brewer 6-6 320 Indiana. Brewer succeeded Rodger Saffold who was the talk of the draft last season before being drafted at the top of the second round. Brewer has the size scouts like and he had some success at both tackles positions for Indiana. The problem is that he did not start playing football till his senior year in high school and once in college he missed parts of two seasons with injuries. He impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl, but he is not a finished product, and he is also an injury risk.

Another middle round possibility is the Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba 6-3 317. Ziemba protected the blind side for Quarterback Cam Newton. At the Senior Bowl they tried him at guard and right tackle. He was dominant in the game as a right tackle living up to his reputation as a decent pass blocker and a mauler in the run game. Ziemba is probably no more than a fill in on the left side, but he could be a right tackle or a guard in the NFL.

Another SEC tackle has watched his stock drop among draft watchers. Joseph Barksdale 6-5 325 LSU, after the 2009 season was one of the top ranked prospects at left tackle. He has the tools to be a fine professional lineman. However, Barksdale has not consistently played at a high level. He is high-risk prospect. On size alone, however, he could have a career in the league.

D.J Young 6-5 307 Michigan State played left tackle at a high level for one season. A defensive lineman in high school and junior college, Young switched to playing offense with the Spartans. He was honorable mention All Big 10. His outstanding accomplishment may have been being named Lineman of the week against J.J. Watts and Wisconsin.

There are some small school tackles who with some coaching may be legitimate left tackles in the future. Byron Stingley 6-5 313 Louisville has some athletic ability. At his pro day, he ran a 4.96 40 together with 28 bench pres reps. Stingley was a defensive player in high school who added weight in junior college before starting at left tackle for two season s at Louisville. His size and agility are augmented by some attitude as a blocker. Some team will draft him. Another prospect is Willie Smith 6-5 310 East Carolina. Smith was a two-year starter at left tackle for an offense that established 16 all time records at the school. In 2010 his offensive line allowed an average of just over one sack per game. Smith was able to show scouts his athletic ability at the Texas vs. The Nation all-star event.

In the Seventh Round or as a free agent, the Packers might select Mike Person 6-5 299 Montana State. The Packers and Seahawks were the only pro teams at his Pro Day. Person started 34 games at right tackle for Montana State and was twice selected All Big Sky. Part of an offense that led the league in every offensive category, Person did not allow a sack in 2010.

In 2010, Green Bay featured a good but not outstanding offensive line. One priority in the 2011 draft is to find a possible starter at guard and more quality depth at every position. A team that has drafted an offensive linemen in nearly every draft is likely to pick one this year.

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