McCarthy Expects Plenty Of Competition Along O-Line

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After some struggles early in the 2009 season, Green Bay's offensive line came on strong down the stretch, and the team will look for that to carry over into next season with what Mike McCarthy expects will be the best competition throughout the line during his tenure as head coach.

Coming into last season, McCarthy spoke of his desire to settle on a starting five after using several different starting combinations in '08 because of injuries. But with a pair of starters, center Jason Spitz and left tackle Chad Clifton, missing time due to injury, along with right tackle Allen Barbre not performing up to expectations, Green Bay was forced to do some shuffling again in '09, particularly during the first half of the season.

"Injuries are part of it," McCarthy said Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast at the league meetings in Orlando, Fla. "Allen didn't step up to the challenge for his opportunity at right tackle early in the season. I thought he got better, but it wasn't at the level that we needed, and that's why we made the change with him. Hopefully he'll learn from it and he'll compete for a spot this year.

"I know the competition along that line will be the best that we have had during my time in Green Bay. That's all you can ask for. You try to rotate them the right way and you try to get that starting five. We went with Jason Spitz over Scott Wells and Scott Wells probably played the best...I think probably (right guard) Josh Sitton had the best year of anybody up there, but I thought Scott and Josh were our two best linemen this year, clearly."

Spitz beat out Wells in training camp for the starting center job, but that didn't last long. When Clifton injured his ankle in Week 2, left guard Daryn Colledge slid over to take Clifton's spot, Spitz moved to left guard, and Wells re-entered the starting lineup, where he would stay for the rest of the year. Spitz only played in five games before a back injury ended his season.

Mark Tauscher, who had torn his ACL late in the '08 season, re-signed with the team on Oct. 12 and ended up starting eight games at right tackle as he took over for the struggling Barbre. The veteran brought some stability to the group, helping the line allow just 10 sacks in the final seven games after giving up 41 in the first nine.

Tauscher and Clifton were both unrestricted free agents this offseason, but re-signed with the team earlier this month. Spitz and Colledge were restricted free agents who were tendered contracts by the Packers, and the two fifth-year players could find themselves competing for the starting left guard position. Spitz has also started at center and right guard during his career.

One player whose best position is still up in the air is second-year tackle/guard T.J. Lang, who played in all 16 games as a rookie with three starts. He opened games at both tackle spots when Tauscher and Clifton were out with injuries after working primarily at guard during the preseason.

Lang played tackle in college at Eastern Michigan, opening all 24 games during his final two seasons on the left side. Although McCarthy acknowledged tackle might be where Lang is most comfortable at this point, he doesn't necessarily think that will be his position moving forward.

"There is a difference in opinion there," McCarthy said. "I think T.J.'s long-term, this is just me personally, and (offensive coordinator) Joe Philbin, (offensive line coach) James Campen, (assistant offensive line coach) Jerry Fontenot, we go around and around about it, I think T.J.'s long-term (position) is at guard. I think he is a natural left guard when I look at his body, but he is young. He needs to develop strength to hit that because he is a very young second-year player.

{sportsad300}"I think there is a lot of room for development, but you can't argue with the fact that he is more natural at tackle because that is where he has played. He feels more natural at tackle because that is where he has played. I definitely feel he could play right tackle today if he had to. He's done a solid job of subbing in there at left tackle when needed."

With the 32-year-old Tauscher and the 33-year-old Clifton both having a history of injuries, a solid backup at those spots will be crucial, whether that is Lang, Barbre, third-year player Breno Giacomini, or a draft pick. McCarthy said Wednesday that as of now Lang would back up Clifton, but there is still plenty of time before the season starts.

"You have competition at the tackle position, but you also have veterans," McCarthy said. "Mark Tauscher this year, we've got to be smart with his reps. You always have to be smart with Clifton, who was coming off four surgeries the year before. Those are the things that we've got to work through and make sure we're doing.

"A guy in T.J. Lang, where does he compete this year? There is a lot of conversation about that young man. What is going to happen in the draft? That may affect the rotation too. I clearly think that we could have almost two guys per position competing for starting spots. That's a very good situation to be in."

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