With rookie guard Josh Sitton out with a knee injury for this Thursday's preseason finale vs. Tennessee, the Packers will have a different starting offensive line for the fourth time this preseason, but the flexibility gained through all of the shuffling should pay dividends down the road for the team.
Sitton suffered a sprained knee during the second series of Friday night's game at Denver, and backup Tony Moll slid into the right guard spot with the first unit. The line was also without center Scott Wells, who sat out for the second time this preseason with a trunk injury, so Jason Spitz slid over to center from the left guard spot, where Daryn Colledge earned the starting nod.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Sitton and Wells are both week-to-week with their injuries, so it is expected that Moll and Spitz will start at right guard and center against the Titans.
"It's our first time going through with Josh," McCarthy said. "Any time you get into these ligament sprains a lot of it is based on the severity of it, but also the individual. Once again, you talk to the medical part of it, it could be a couple of weeks. You talk to the player, it could be two days. I know he feels strongly about it, but that's why I put him in the week-to-week category."
After struggling as a unit at San Francisco a week earlier when the No. 1 offense put only three points on the board and gave up four sacks, the first group bounced back with their best performance of the preseason at Denver. The line helped quarterback Aaron Rodgers complete 18-of-22 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, allowed only one sack, and helped pave the way for the Packers' first group to score on four of five possessions.
"I was very pleased with the way Daryn Colledge played," McCarthy said. "I thought he played with excellent energy. He's played about as good as he is played this year. Allen Barbre had his best contest as far as grading out in his two years being here. I thought Jason Spitz was definitely a lot better this week, a game better. Tony Moll did a nice job."
Injuries throughout the preseason have forced the Packers to experiment with several different combinations on the offensive line. Wells also missed the opener vs. Cincinnati, so Spitz started at center with Colledge at left guard.
With Wells returning the next week at San Francisco, Spitz went back to left guard and Colledge backed him up as well as left tackle Chad Clifton.
"We've got athletic guys, we've got smart guys, and I think everybody in that room can play multiple positions," Colledge said. "It comes down to every single week they are going to put the best five out there and hope those guys get the job done, and that's what we feel like we can do.
"We play a physical position with a lot of contact, and things happen. We've got guys that are flexible and willing to go around and play other positions. It doesn't matter where you start out at. It's just how we finish up every week."
Wells, who initially suffered a muscle strain in his trunk/back toward the end of OTAs, is responding well to his treatment, but McCarthy said the team will take a cautious approach as he works to get back out on the field.
"I just want to make sure we're not dealing with a long-term situation," McCarthy said. "Because he was healthy one week and then had an immediate setback, so we're going to make sure he's 100 percent ready to go when we get him back in there."
The only spots on the offensive line that have not been affected by injuries this preseason have been at the tackle positions, with veterans Clifton and Mark Tauscher providing stability. Despite not having the luxury of the same group working together to build cohesiveness heading into the regular season, McCarthy said the versatility many of the linemen are developing has been a plus.
"For a young group, Tony and Daryn, they have good experience," McCarthy said. "Allen Barbre has done a good job. It's unfortunate Josh got hurt, but the flexibility is what we were looking with this group and I think we have accomplished that. We've just got to get those guys healthy."