New Pass Protection Drill
As veteran Mark Tauscher looked to his left during the first organized team activity in late April, something seemed unfamiliar. Both of last year's starting guards, Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, his neighbors in the trenches for the right tackle's entire six-year career, were no longer there.
"It was weird because you have it so ingrained in your head how you do things, and then you have a guy next to you that's not Marco," he said. "It's a different deal."
Tauscher was out of his comfort zone because Rivera and Wahle left as free agents during the offseason. The Panthers signed Wahle to a five-year, $27-million contract with $10 million in bonuses while the Cowboys signed Rivera to a five-year, $20 million deal with a $9 million signing bonus.
As a result, a franchise built around the success of the offensive line, going back to the Green Bay sweep and Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston clearing holes for Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor to run for daylight, must replace two-thirds of their interior and must reshuffle one of the league's strongest lines from last year.
In 2004 the Packers' offensive line helped set team records for total net yards, net passing yards and fewest sacks allowed and tied the Indianapolis Colts for fewest sacks in the league with 14.
But despite the loss of Rivera and Wahle, offensive line coach Larry Beightol has confidence in this year's unit.
"I'm gonna knock on wood. If we stay healthy," he said, "we'll have as good an offensive line as we had in the last couple of years."
Exactly who will make up that starting line is still being determined. During June's OTA, the Packers rotated Grey Ruegamer and Matt O'Dwyer at one starting guard combination and Adrian Klemm and Atlas Herrion at another. All four players received about the same number of repetitions.
"We do a rotation," Klemm said, when asked who will start next year. "It's hard to say, but I'm in a good position right now."
During the offseason, the Packers signed O'Dwyer, an 11-year veteran, who has played for the Jets, Bengals and Buccaneers and Klemm, who earned three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, to help fill the void.
"Adrian's a heck of an athlete," Tauscher said. "I think O'Dwyer's got a lot of toughness."
O'Dwyer fought through blisters on his foot and sore ribs during the OTAs.
Herrion added: "Both of them can run well. Both are strong, athletic guys. They are both good at pulling around the cone and are hard-nosed."
Klemm, like O'Dwyer, is healthy after battling through injuries in the past. An avid weightlifter, O'Dwyer tore a pectoral muscle while working out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. Klemm has suffered knee, elbow, calf and foot injuries during his six years.
The New England Patriots offered Klemm a new contract, but he decided to move on.
"I just didn't happen to want to go back," he said. "With my injury history, I wanted to start fresh."
With two children less than two years old and much of his family from nearby Carmel, Ind., Klemm chose Green Bay.
"We decided to make our home in the Midwest," he said. "We live in Indiana and like the small city feel."
Ruegamer is another player very much in the mix at guard. He served as the Packers' starting center for most of the 2004 season, stepping into the lineup when Mike Flanagan's knee tendinitis landed him on injured reserve in Week Four.
Regardless of who starts, Flanagan, who looked strong during the OTAs, will command the players on either side of him. The quarterback of the line made the Pro Bowl in 2003.
"He's more vocal than any other guy on the line," Herrion said. "When he talks, everyone listens."
All the players listened when assistant offensive line/quality control coach James Campen introduced a new pass blocking drill during the OTAs. In the drill, the defensive player holds a large exercise ball near his hips while rushing the passer, and the offensive lineman pass protects while keeping his hands behind his back. The exercise emphasizes balance during pass blocking, forcing the linemen to keep their shoulders back and use proper posture.
"It keeps you from getting too top heavy and leaning over," said Scott Wells, who is working at both guard and center. "It's a good drill."
The linemen used the OTAs to mesh as a unit, a process that will not be complete until training camp, Wells said.
Tauscher still chats on the phone to both departed guards, especially Rivera, who he talks to "quite a bit." The Packers, however, expect major contributions from their replacements.
"We miss those guys," Beightol said. "But you know something? They're with another team now. They're the enemy. We're fixing to move on."