Packers go with youth on interior offensive line
The trio of interior blockers that will be part of the offensive line charged with protecting Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre in 2006 will be comprised of three youngsters with a total of 12 NFL starts.
In an effort to provide the unit more time to gel before the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at Chicago, first-year coach Mike McCarthy has already settled on his five starters, even with two games still remaining on the preseason schedule. The lineup includes third-year veteran center Scott Wells and a pair of rookie guards, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll.
McCarthy, it seems, is intent on going greener in Green Bay in an effort to upgrade the line.
Wells has a dozen career starts, but only four at center, two in each of the last two seasons when he filled in for the injured Mike Flanagan, who departed as a free agent this spring.
A third-round choice from Louisville, and projected by most teams before the draft as a center, Spitz will start at left guard. Moll, a fifth-round selection who was primarily a tackle at Nevada, will be the starter at right guard. The top backup at guard might be second-round choice Daryn Colledge of Boise State, a tackle for much of his college career.
"I thought it was important [to identify the starters early]," McCarthy said. "I was not comfortable waiting until the end of training camp to name the starting five. So by going in this direction, it gives us a chance to get these five guys 'repped up' and ready for Chicago [in the opener]."
The unit represents a dramatic makeover for an offensive line that has not only altered its personnel but also its blocking scheme. Under offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who works chiefly with the line, the Packers have implemented the kind of zone-blocking and cut-blocking techniques popularized by the Denver Broncos and adopted now by several other clubs. The scheme demands quicker and more nimble linemen, and all three interior players fit that mold.
Green Bay coaches also hope that, in going with younger players, they will construct a unit that should be able to grow together and remain intact for a number of years. The Packers had one of the league's most stable offensive lines until starting guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera both defected as free agents after the 2004 season.
The Packers used four different starters at the two guard spots -- Adrian Klemm, William Whitticker, Wells and the departed Grey Ruegamer -- during the 2005 season. Klemm has been injured in camp. Whitticker has shuffled back and forth between guard and tackle and, given that he appears a poor fit for the team's new blocking design, might not even make the roster despite his 14 starts as a rookie.
Favre was sacked 24 times last season, the most since 2002, but was even under more pressure inside than that number reflects. He threw a league-worst 29 interceptions, the most of his career, and the Packers will need to provide him better protection this season.
"I know there's going to be growing pains," conceded Spitz. "On the other hand, I have to do my job, take the licks, and keep on going. You've got to play and win games now. It's getting to a point now where being a rookie isn't an excuse. Obviously, we're starting for a reason."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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