It’s no secret that the Packers’ offensive line is struggling mightily this season. While the line is relatively young, minus Chad Clifton, production is an issue for the struggling youngsters, while age is a concern for the productive veterans.
It’s not a good combination for a team trying to protect their franchise quarterback and trying to get their high-powered offense back on track.
Despite Mark Tauscher and Levi Jones working out for the Packers, it’s obvious that no-one on the current roster, or in the free agent pool, is going to be the answer going forward. While the potential for improvement is there for the young players, if there is going to be a drastic improvement on the offensive line, it is going to need to come in the form of an early draft pick.
Last season, the Packers selected two offensive linemen in T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith.
Both were selected on the second day of the draft (Lang in the fourth, Meredith in the fifth) and were not expected to make a huge impact in their first seasons. General manager Ted Thompson has been a huge fan of taking project linemen in the later rounds of the draft and letting them gain experience before putting them on the field.
In 2005, Thompson selected center/guard Junius Coston in the fifth round and guard Will Whitticker in the seventh round, neither of whom are still on the active roster. In 2006, he used his first of two second-round selections to take current starter Daryn Colledge, and also used the latter of his third-round picks to take center Jason Spitz.
The next year, in 2007, Thompson’s lone offensive lineman selection was in the fourth round in Allen Barbre, the team’s current but struggling right tackle.
In 2008, Thompson used his fourth and fifth-round picks to select Josh Sitton and Breno Giacomini. It would be quite deceiving to say that Thompson has done a good job selecting offensive linemen because four of his nine offensive line picks are current starters.
When he took over as GM in 2005, he declined to re-sign veteran guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle and tried to replace them with free agent signings Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer.
O’Dwyer was cut in training camp and Klemm lasted just a year with the Packers. The only other free agent signing Thompson has gone for on the offensive line was this past off-season in Duke Preston. However, he flopped as well and was cut before the season began.
Simply put, Thompson has put all his offensive line eggs in the draft basket and it clearly is not working, especially when he waits so long to select them. Granted it makes little sense to take a guard or center in the early rounds of the draft, but this season Thompson will surely be expected to address the tackle position on Day One.
Luckily for him, there will be options available when the Packers go on the clock in April.
Scouts, Inc. has Russell Okung listed as their top left tackle in next year’s draft, and just by looking at him it’s easy to see why. The 6'6" senior from Oklahoma State is big in size and moves extremely well for his size. He has everything you look for in a franchise left tackle and could potentially learn for a year under Chad Clifton.
The only issue with Okung is that he is almost a lock to be taken within the first half of the first round. So maybe Packers’ fans should hope they don’t have the opportunity to take him.
More realistic options include Trent Williams from Oklahoma, who has the versatility to play both tackle positions if he can improve on his pass blocking. His run blocking is superb, which gives him the ability to play right tackle, the position he played up until this season.
If his pass blocking improves, his name could be called in the top ten picks. For now, he looks like a viable option for the Packers come draft day.
Bryan Bulaga from Iowa is almost a sure-fire first-round draft pick and someone who can help in the run game as well. Bruce Campbell from Maryland and Charles Brown from USC round out the borderline first round picks for 2010. While many things can and will change, but keep an eye on these five players leading up to the draft.
The Packers have relied on middle of the pack linemen for too long and need to go out and get a stud next season.
Clifton and Colledge are both free agents after this season and it will be interesting to see what they do and who they keep. Either way, there’s a good chance a spot (or two) is opening up at the tackle position next season.
It’s time that Ted Thompson moved away from the defensive front seven and focused on shoring up the offensive line.
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