Back in the days of Vince Lombardi, the offensive line had an almost communist quality; the offensive line was an integral part of the team, but you never knew anyone’s name, there were no stats to keep track of and the only time you ever noticed a lineman was when they screwed up.
Lombardi was a big believer in the team, and his zone blocking scheme emphasized that the best; linemen were assigned zones, so instead of a “may the best man win” duel with a defensive lineman, the line worked together as a unit to defeat the defense.
That all changed with Lawrence Taylor. Taylor made the blind-side sack an art; he basically destroyed Joe Thiesmann’s career with one. The league naturally saw Lawrence Taylor and his success and went out into the college ranks to find more like him, but they also went out to find someone who could stop a Lawrence Taylor.
These players had to have unrealistic physical attributes; they had to have the size and power to stop a bull rush, but also the speed and agility to counter a speed rush. These players show up infrequently: Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones. Jake Long was drafted first overall by the Dolphins in 2008 a got a $60 million deal.
These players are no longer just another body on the line. They are perhaps the most athletically gifted individuals on the planet, and they get paid as such.
And I think that’s the one weakness of Ted Thompson: He is cheap.
He rarely signs free agents, likes to trade down and horde value picks, and doesn’t typically re-sign his own players to huge deals (I will say that he is loyal to his own players and will pay them fairly).
He also favors the value of versatility; just look at Spencer Havner playing offense, defense, and special teams. Brett Swain beat out Ruvell Martin because he also played special teams and did a pretty good job as a CB. Why have two players doing one thing when you can have one player that does two things?
But one place that I think Ted Thompson’s philosophy of versatility might be undoing the team is at the offense line. I think all this versatility is beginning to prove a liability; jack of all trades, master of none. The past couple years, the offensive line has always been in flux since there are so many possible permutations; and the ramifications of this versatility are even more dire than that.
For instance, with Chad Clifton out during the Vikings game in Week Four, Daryn Colledge slid over from the left guard to left tackle (who also got hurt and was replaced by TJ Lang). Left guard was then occupied by Jason Spitz, who was playing center, and Scott Wells came from the bench to replace Spitz.
So with one injury, 60 percent of the line changed (stick Allen Barbe at right tackle and you can understand why the line was so terrible for that game).
You can’t ask an offensive line to deal with that much change and still protect the quarterback, and it showed. Daryn Colledge might be a decent guard, but he definitely was no match for Jared Allen, and the line allowed Aaron Rodgers to be sacked eight times with a safety, and the running game only produced 82 yards.
If the Packers have learned one lesson this year it is that the offensive line, more importantly offensive tackles, and even more importantly left tackles are specialized players just like every other position. You need a left tackle to play left tackle, or you need to groom a lineman to be a left tackle; the Packers cannot and will not let Colledge pretend to be a left tackle for another season.
So where does that lead the Packers in the future? Aaron Rodgers has proven himself worthy of star protection around him (I think all Packers fans salivate at seeing Rodgers having time in the pocket to throw). Do the Packers use their first selection to draft a left tackle?
My personal opinion is "yes," even if we have to trade up, and if not then certainly with the second-round pick.
The Clifton and Tauscher deals, to me, signal that Thompson knows he has no depth at the tackle position, even with all his versatile players. Why else do you sign such old free agents to such expensive deals? Everyone knows that Thompson will look to jettison these contracts as soon as he can; both deals are for three years, but are structured to look like one-year deals in the sense that most of the money is for the first year.
With this in mind, left tackle is probably the most important position for the draft. Add to that Thompson historically has never been great at drafting offensive tackles. Clifton and Tauscher were drafted by Ron Wolf and everyone else (save maybe TJ Lang) has been a disaster at the bookends.
Thus, it is imperative that Thompson put aside his personal philosophy of drafting the best player available or the most versatile player and draft a specialist, a true bona fide left tackle. Star left tackles are extremely rare, and if the Packers see the next Orlando Pace, they need to get him, even if they have to overpay.