Coaches Experimenting On Offensive Line


In the ongoing effort to find the right combination of players up front, the Packers shuffled their rookies on the offensive line at practice on Monday.

On the starting unit, third-round draft choice Jason Spitz moved from right guard to left guard, replacing second-round pick Daryn Colledge. Fifth-rounder Tony Moll was then moved from No. 2 right tackle to the No. 1 spot at right guard.

"We're just looking for a comfort level of five guys playing together," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "We feel we've got great competition in there, competition is healthy, and we're going to see who takes advantage of the opportunity."

The changes led to moves with the second unit as well. Colledge took the left guard spot, while Junius Coston was moved from left tackle to right tackle, and Josh Bourke was put in at left tackle.

The moves are by no means permanent, but the struggles with the ground game and pass protection in the preseason opener in San Diego on Saturday have forced the coaching staff to explore other options.

"We're really in an experimental mode," offensive line coach Joe Philbin said. "We're trying to find the exact right five guys that are going to fit this offense and help us win games, and honestly we don't know exactly who they are today. That's what the preseason is all about and what these practices are all about."

Spitz, who had worked at different positions on the line during the spring and early summer, seemed to make the adjustment to the left side without a hitch.

Colledge took the demotion professionally, with the mindset he wants to make it as temporary as possible.

"Coach is shuffling guys around, we're trying to get the best five out there we can have, and obviously I wasn't one of the best five today," he said. "I did it to myself. I just have to come back tomorrow and keep working harder to prove that I'm that guy. Hopefully it doesn't stay this way."

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the moves was with Moll, who was drafted out of Nevada after playing just one year on the offensive line as a tackle. He had been a tight end for four years in college (including his redshirt season) before moving to tackle as a senior.

Now he's being asked to learn a new position again, and he's trying to put his best foot forward on short notice.

"They want to see what I can do," Moll said. "It's something they talked about since draft day, not sure if they want me to play tackle or guard. We're in the middle of camp so they wanted to throw me in there and see how I did."

Moll said the new position didn't feel totally foreign to him, for which he credits his off-the-field study habits and concentration during the meetings and classroom sessions.

"One thing they really stress on us on the offensive line is digging in and really understanding the playbook," he said. "That's one thing I really tried to do during OTAs, mini-camps and the beginning of camp, is really get into the playbook and understand it. I think that made a big difference today. I felt like I knew what I was doing out there."

Whether it was tension from the shakeup or frustration over Saturday's performance was unclear, but emotions were running high amongst the linemen on Monday. Three different minor skirmishes broke out with defensive linemen during the one-on-one pass rush/protection drills.

Defensive end Jason Hunter and offensive tackle Todd Williams, defensive end Dave Tollefson and Bourke, and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett and guard Michael Moore all engaged in some pushing and shoving during the drill.

As for how long the Packers will line up this way, the players' performances will dictate that.

Philbin said needs to improve in two key areas - fundamentals and communication.

Those breakdowns, though not entirely unexpected with so many young players getting their first taste of NFL action against a top defensive front seven like San Diego's, were particularly costly in the failure to pick up the Chargers' linebacker blitzes, leading to five sacks.

"It's naïve to think you're going to go out there in your first preseason game with a couple of rookies and some guys who moved positions and operate as smooth as you'd like," Philbin said. "We all want to be as efficient as possible, but we expect there's going to be some bumps in the road, there's going to be some mistakes. But we have to play more physically and sounder football."

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