In the fifth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Packers’ personnel entering the 2011 offseason, we analyze Green Bay’s offensive-line situation.
Overview: Benefiting from the same starting five the final three-quarters of the season, the Packers’ offensive line performed a lot better than the 2009 unit. After allowing a league-leading 51 sacks during the ’09 regular season — including a whopping 37 the first half of the year — the 2010 line allowed a total of 38 sacks during the regular season and ranked 20th in percentage of sacks allowed, compared to 29th the season before.
It didn’t hurt that QB Aaron Rodgers did a better job of getting rid of the ball quicker, displaying split-second timing more often than not while spraying the ball around to a lot of different weapons.
Chad Clifton: After missing four games because of injury in 2009 and getting forced out of four other contests, including the playoffs, Clifton, who will turn 35 in June, was able to start every game, as a relaxed practice regimen helped to preserve his tender knees. Earning a Pro Bowl berth, Clifton was at his best when matched up against top-grade competition. He had excellent performances, particularly late in the season against the likes of Julius Peppers (twice), Osi Umenyiora, Trent Cole, John Abraham and — last but not least — James Harrison in the Super Bowl. But he was far from perfect, allowing 8½ sacks, according to STATS, Inc.
Bryan Bulaga: Green Bay’s top pick in the 2010 draft, Bulaga proved worthy of his first-round billing, more than holding his own as the team’s starting right tackle after Mark Tauscher was lost for the season with a shoulder injury following Week Four. Bulaga did have a rocky stretch late in the season, as it appeared he might have run into the proverbial rookie wall, and he needs to cut way down on his penalties (11 sacks allowed, nine penalties). But he rebounded in the playoffs, culminating his season with an excellent effort in the Super Bowl, and looks like a fixture in the making — more likely at right tackle than on the left side, where his relatively short arms could pose a problem down the road.
Scott Wells: Daily observers believe Pro Bowl voters made a huge mistake picking the Giants’ Shaun O’Hara at the center position ahead of Wells, who was a tough, smart rock in the middle of the line. Wells, 30, was seldom penalized, and his snaps were spot on in 2010. Wells also couldn’t have had a better chemistry with Rodgers, whose ability to vary his cadences was never better due in great part to his confidence in his cerebral center.
Josh Sitton: A hardworking grinder if there ever was one, Sitton also definitely deserved Pro Bowl consideration. He was equally effective as the starting right guard in both run and pass situations, allowing a team-low zero sacks according to STATS, Inc., and is a tough, determined downfield blocker who prides himself on never giving in to anybody.
Daryn Colledge: It will be interesting to see whether or not the team decides to re-sign Colledge, a free agent who could have some value on the open market. While the left guard is widely considered the weakest link on Green Bay’s offensive line, especially in terms of run blocking, Colledge was a lot better than he was the previous season and was a far cry from being an outright liability.
Mark Tauscher: Despite having one of the ugliest bodies in the game, Tauscher almost always has managed to get the job done when healthy. Two seasons ago, the line did a 360-degree turn once he stepped into his customary spot at right tackle at midseason after finally fully recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee. But Tauscher was stung severely by the injury bug again this past season, lasting only four starts before suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery. Tauscher’s age (he turns 34 in June) and salary (an increase from $1.4 million to $4.1 million in 2011) does not bode well for his future in Green Bay.
T.J. Lang: The Packers still believe the versatile Lang has major upside despite a mediocre 2010 season that got off to a slow start because of a major wrist injury suffered last April. A fourth-round draft pick in ’09, Lang has a good head on his shoulders and lots of tenacity. But he really needs to bulk up to have a legitimate shot at challenging for the starting OLG job in 2011.
Jason Spitz: Spitz is a free agent who is not expected to return after seeing minimal action in 2010. When Spitz did get on the field last season, he really labored with a nagging calf injury. A back problem shut him down the previous season, and it looks like his days are numbered as a Packer.
Evan Dietrich-Smith: A combination center-guard who was re-signed late in the season after spending a month in Seattle, Dietrich-Smith probably will get another camp invite. But he was never activated in 2010 and looks like a long shot as a regular contributor.
Nick McDonald: Keep a close eye on McDonald, a rookie free agent from Grand Valley State last season. With excellent size (6-4, 316 pounds), decent athleticism and a very impressive demeanor, McDonald could have a future with the team at left guard or center.
Marshall Newhouse: A fifth-round draft pick by the team this past season, Newhouse never got on the field in his rookie campaign and ended the season on injured reserve with a back ailment. Smart and nifty, the Packers are hoping Newhouse will see a lot more action spelling Clifton at left tackle in 2011.
Bottom Line: Sitton, Wells and Bulaga are rock solid with their best years still in front of them. But even though Clifton played at a Pro Bowl level most of the 2010 season, his best years are behind him. Don’t be surprised if at least one of the team's young linemen (Lang, Newhouse and/or McDonald) makes a quantum leap next season.