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OFFENSIVE LINE TURNING THINGS AROUND

by Jerry Gilbert
Continuing the momentum established in the final 20 minutes of the Carolina game, the Green Bay Packer Offensive Line protected its quarterback and opened holes for its runners on the way to a 52-3 drubbing of the New Orleans Saints. This is almost the same group of offensive linemen who have been a constant source of criticism and comment going all the way back to training camp. They deserved the flak they received. For nearly four games, the Green Bay offense could neither run nor pass effectively. Whether on offense or defense, football begins on the line, and no offense will have consistent success without good play from the big guys up front. That level of play began to develop in the Carolina game, it and was present for 60 minutes in Green Bay last Sunday

From the start, the most frequent subject of discussion for the national and state pressas well as across the internetwas the problem of replacing departed guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. As the line struggled during the first four games, the general consensus was that the new guards must be the problem. After all, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, and Mike Flanagan were the returning core of one of the better lines in the league. Oft injured Adrian Klemm and rookie William Whittiker were the obvious targets.

However, as so often is the case, the conventional wisdom, may not be accurate. Think back. When did the offense finally begin to protect Brett Favre? It was after Mike Wells entered the Carolina game to play center. A week later, Wells and his mates also established themselves as run blockers. No one should kick a man when he is down, and that is not the intention here. Facts are facts. After Mike Flanagan was injured, the line started to play better. Against the Saints, the line, minus Flanagan, played very well.

One of the most heard theories for Mike Flanagan's sub par play in the 2005 season was the claim that he was so concerned about instructing and covering up for his inexperienced guards that he was not anchored to stop onrushing defensive tackles. Larry McCarren is one of the people who advanced this theory, and I respect his knowledge of offensive line play. Nevertheless, even if we grant the point that Flanagan was distracted, it is hard to justify his decision to concentrate more on his teammates than on his own responsibilities. After the first three games, coach Mike Sherman and offensive line coach Larry Beightol consistently refused to blame the guards. They said that the guards had played pretty well. They said there was plenty of blame to go around.

Some of the blame was properly directed at the two veteran tackles. Until Sunday, Mark Tauscher had not been opening holes on the right side, and the Packers, like most teams, tend to run to the right. Chad Clifton allowed a sack against Carolina and failed to cut down the backside pursuit in the rushing game. Both tackles allowed a rusher to deck their quarterbacksomething almost unthinkable last season. Then there was Flanagan. He had very little success with either the run or the pass, and this is a player who sometimes in the past has blocked 2 or 3 players to propel a long run by Ahman Green. Flanagan was a shell of his former self. Mike Flanagan has been a great player for the Packers. Rebounding from career threatening injuries and multiple surgeries in his first seasons, Flanagan battled back and became a premier player. However, last year he suffered another leg injury, which ended his season, and this season he has not seemed to be all the way back. Now, he may never come back.

Replacing Flanagan is the guy who, at six feet tall, has always been called too short. A high school wrestling phenom, Wells was a four year regular at center for Tennessee who starter 49 games. As a rookie last season, he was forced into service, and anchored the line as the Packers surged at the end of the season to another division championship. A changing of the guardor perhaps -- a changing of the centeris happening before our eyes.

Something else happened against New Orleans. Left guard Adrian Klemm was better than all right. In a game in which Clifton was playing at about 75% due to injury, and Tauscher committed a rare holding penalty, Klemm was the man who made the plays. On Najeh Davenport's second touchdown, it was Klemm who opened the wide hole. On screens and sweeps, it was Klemm leading the way. If he can avoid injury, Adrian Klemm may have a future in Green Bay.

As I wrote last week, turnovers are often the key to success, and 5 turnovers, including 2 interceptions run back for touchdowns, against New Orleans contributed to the one-sided rout. However, the defense could perform so well because the offense controlled the ball and scored points. Even without Najeh Davenport, Terrence Murphy, and Javon Walker, the Packers will have a successful offense as long as the line performs. It appears that the slightly altered starting five is ready to contribute.

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