True to his word the Packers offensive line wouldn’t be a work in progress like it was during the 2008 season, coach Mike McCarthy has chosen his starting unit.
They are, from left to right, Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Josh Sitton, and Allen Barbre. Sptiz, Sitton and Barbre are all new starters at their respective positions.
The decision is encouraging, if not a bit surprising. If you recall last offseason, the offensive line was in constant flux, other than the tackle spots held down by Clifton and Mark Tauscher, which lead to a complete lack of cohesiveness — something that every solid offensive line has.
Whether it was guys not performing as well as the coaching staff thought they should during training camp (Barbre), injuries (Scott Wells, Sitton) or a constant suffling of positions (Spitz, Tony Moll), the Packers offensive line never gained that cohesiveness last season. It was in part due to the fact that no one knew who was going to be lining up next to them week in and week out. Choosing the starters after the first two preseason games will allow this unit to gel and make the team better off in the long run.
Onto the starters themselves.
Both Clifton and Colledge were givens, seeing as though they both started at their respective positions — left tackle and guard — last season.
Spitz taking over for Wells at center wasn’t much of a surprise, either. Wells had shoulder surgery in the offseason and Spitz ran with the No. 1 unit at center while Wells was rehabilitating. However, it became clear by the coaches language in the offseason that they wanted an upgrade over Wells and thought Spitz was their man. Although Wells has been solid at times, he’s missed six games over the past three years and hasn’t performed as well as his predecessors at the position – Mike Flanagan, Frank Winters and James Campen.
Spitz gives the Packers a slightly bigger body in the middle. He’s 6-3 1/2 and 313 pounds, while Wells comes in at 6-2, 307. Spitz is also younger. At 26, Spitz is entering his fourth season and at 28, Wells is entering his sixth.
While Wells would provide a valuable and experienced backup for the Packers, the Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn says there is a probability that Wells could be traded, especially with Duke Preston — who also plays center, along with several other positions — on the roster.
Sitton starting at right guard isn’t too much of a surprise, either. Sitton was essentially in competition with Spitz, who held down the right guard spot last season, after Sitton got injured. If Spitz hadn’t beaten out Wells, he would likely have slid over to the guard spot. However, it seems the coaches determined that both Sitton and Spitz were among the team’s five best offensive linemen.
Sitton will give the Packers a larger presence at right guard than they had with Spitz. Sitton is more of a road grader type at 6-3, 322 pounds. He’s entering his second season and is only 23, so barring a meltdown or injuries, could hold down the Packers right guard spot for the next eight to 10 years.
The biggest surprise of this group is Barbre.
Barbre was given an opportunity to compete for a starting guard spot last season, but performed terribly. It wasn’t entirely his fault, since he was being asked to switch to guard from his natural tackle position, but Barbre was a disappointment nonetheless.
Coming into camp, the Packers gave him the opportunity to win the right tackle job. Although he has performed much better than last season, Barbre was receiving a strong push from Breno Giacomini.
Barbre and Giacomini were splitting reps with the No. 1 offense through much of training camp, and there were whispers around the team as recently as two weeks ago that Giacomini was overtaking Barbre. But the Packers were always high on Barbre because he’s the most athletic lineman on the team and brings a bit of a nasty streak to the field.
Although he’s smaller than Giacomini (6-7, 313), Barbre (6-4, 303) won favor with the Packers coaching staff because he’s more aggressive. In a close competition, the team has to go with the guy with the larger upside, and it looks like that’s what happened here.
The Packers, and in particular Ted Thompson and the coaching staff, should be commended for drafting and building with quality young players. The team has essentially taken what was a weak spot (or a question mark, at best) coming into training camp and turned it into a strength.