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Laying It On The Line


The old adage says that football games are won and lost in the trenches. Seemingly no game would epitomize that more than Monday night's opener between the Packers and the Carolina Panthers.

The Packers' offensive line, anchored by a pair of Pro Bowlers in center Mike Flanagan and right guard Marco Rivera, is regarded as one of the best in the league. All five starters return to the group that paved the way for Ahman Green's NFC-best 1,883 rushing yards, as the team also led the conference and ranked third in the NFL in rushing in 2003.

Lining up across from the five workhorses in Green and Gold will be one of the top defensive line groups in the game.

The Panthers' front four features a pair of Pro Bowlers to match the Packers' duo, with defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and defensive end Mike Rucker each making the trip to Honolulu following the 2003 season.

End Julius Peppers, 2002's Defensive Rookie of the Year, and 11-year veteran tackle Brentson Buckner round out one of the NFL's most formidable fronts.

The Packers' trench men are looking forward to the challenge of going up against some of the best in the business, and plan on coming out on top in the battle.

"This is going to be a real fun game," said left guard Mike Wahle. "We've got what we feel is a good offense and they've got what they feel is a good defense. From that standpoint, it's definitely going to be a physical football game. We have confidence that we're going to put points on the board. It's just a matter of executing and cutting down on mistakes."

Rivera is ready to get on to the field and back up the praise that has been heaped upon the offensive line, and is eager to be tested right out of the gate.

"That defensive line is the strength of their team," said the goateed guard. "It's a challenge that we welcome. We're reading a lot that our offensive line is pretty good. Let's see how good we really are. We need to go out down there and get the job done. It's a challenge that all of us are looking forward to. We're going to go out there and do a good job - we've got confidence in that. I couldn't think of a better team to start the season off against."

Quarterback Brett Favre is equally impressed with the defense that will be trying to harass him throughout Monday's opener. He recalled a meeting with the front before they became superstars.

"I think they are as good as any front four we've ever faced," Favre said. "They're very similar to Tampa in scheme, and in the way they play. It all starts with those guys up front. We played them here two years ago, and we really only had one good play against them, and that was on a trick play that Bubba threw. Aside from that, we didn't do a whole lot. They were virtually unknown at the time, even to us to a certain degree. I remember leaving that game very impressed with how good they were. I would say they rank right up near the top of defenses that we've faced."

Much has been made that the Packers' linemen only had one game together as a unit during the preseason. Knee injuries to Flanagan and Wahle kept them out of the first three and two games, respectively. Wahle was asked if he's concerned that the relative lack of game experience this summer would be a factor Monday.

"Can't be - no time to be concerned," Wahle said. "We've got a game to play Monday night. We're going to get our stuff together this week and be ready to go. It is a storyline, but you've got to play the hand you're dealt. We're not going to give it a second thought. We're just going to go out there and play the game."

The former Navy Midshipman summed up what it was going to take to win the game.

"Whoever controls the line of scrimmage is going to be the successful team," Wahle said. "That's what we're looking to do, and I'm sure they're looking to do the same thing."

He is also looking forward to measuring his group against some of the game's elite, but he's not looking past the ultimate goal.

"You like to play against the top guys. Any competitor wants to play against the best guys. This is the best defensive line around, so we're definitely looking forward to the battle. We're not looking to make names for ourselves - we're looking to win football games."

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