Only Questions On Offense Are Up Front

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The Green Bay Packers have to like where their offense is headed for the 2010 season.

They have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who looks every bit the part of a franchise signal caller for years to come. They have a deep and talented receiving corps with the ageless Donald Driver, big-play threat Greg Jennings, and productive reserves in James Jones and Jordy Nelson. They have an emerging star at tight end in Jermichael Finley, and they have a feature back in Ryan Grant who has posted back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons.

"A lot of guys stopped by (last week) when they left, and you could feel the disappointment (after the playoff loss), but there's a lot of optimism about the things they can still accomplish," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said in an extended Q&A session with the media last week. "They feel like this offense has a future. We have good young players and we're heading in the right direction."

So that leaves just one primary question, but unfortunately it's fraught with loads of uncertainty at the moment. What is the offensive line going to look like?

It would be comforting if there were more answers right now, because the way the line settled down with the return to health of Chad Clifton and addition of Mark Tauscher at the tackle spots, sacks were reduced dramatically in the second half of the season, the offense really hit its stride, and there'd be no reason to think it couldn't pick up where it left off.

But at this point there's no way to know if the Packers are going to have that same starting five - Clifton at left tackle, Daryn Colledge at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Josh Sitton at right guard, and Tauscher at right tackle - in 2010, or if as many as three or four spots could be different. Here's a short list of the factors involved:

--Clifton and Tauscher are both 10-year veterans who are unrestricted free agents. It's always difficult to gauge what kind of contract offer to make to players whose best years are in all likelihood behind them, but who are not done yet. And there's no telling what kind of interest they might generate from tackle-needy teams in the free-agent market.

"They did some good things," Philbin said. "Mark was a stabilizing force, no doubt about it. Chad had a bunch of offseason surgeries, wasn't able to participate in a lot of things in the spring, and was a little limited in practice time. But Chad's a guy who's played a bunch of snaps in this league and done it successfully for a long time."

-- Colledge and center/guard Jason Spitz will be restricted free agents if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached between the owners and players' union. Spitz, who began the season as the starting center, will be coming off a back injury that landed him on injured reserve, and Wells played admirably in his place in the middle.

"I thought he had his best year since he's been here," Philbin said of Wells. "I was very pleased with how he played. Run blocking has always been a strength, and he was very good, and his communication as a center was better than it's ever been. I'm not here to anoint people for 2010, but Scott played well."

So could Spitz be moving back to guard full-time? With Sitton in place, will it work financially to pay restricted free-agent salaries to two other interior players? The 2009 season is a testament to the value of depth, because injuries can hit anyone at any time, so there's that to consider as well.

--T.J. Lang and Breno Giacomini are in some ways the great unknowns, for different reasons.

Lang, a rookie fourth-round draft choice in '09, spent all of training camp and the preseason at guard, then played separate stints in the regular season at both left tackle and right tackle when injuries cropped up. He held his own for the most part at every spot, but never got to settle in anywhere. So there's no definitive projection as to whether he's ready to take over for either Clifton or Tauscher, or if his best position might still be inside.

"T.J. Lang showed a lot of versatility and made a real good contribution as a rookie," Philbin said. "Is he a left tackle, right tackle, or guard? I'm not really sure yet. He's certainly an option somewhere and we'll see how far he can develop and how quickly he can come along here in his second year."

{sportsad300}Giacomini is another unknown simply because he hasn't played in his two years on the 53-man roster. Strictly a right tackle, Giacomini lost a chance to develop more quickly when he missed virtually the entire offseason program last year with an ankle injury, which contributed to him losing the battle for the starting right tackle spot to Allen Barbre in training camp last summer.

"He's a guy we need to find out more about," Philbin said. "We need to learn more about what he's capable of doing.

"Until you see a guy get a lot of reps in a game situation, you're not always totally certain about what you have. That's not his fault, but I'm not really sure yet."

In general, the Packers can't be sure of much on the offensive line for 2010, but there's plenty of time to get it sorted out. There will be opportunities to add players in free agency and the draft, plus an entire offseason program to experiment if necessary to see who best fits where and which are the best combinations.

As unsettling as it can seem at times, it's entirely possible the Packers won't define their starting offensive line until some point in training camp again. When there's such a mix of youth and veteran players within the unit, that's almost inevitable.

But when that's the only reasonable uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball, it will get the requisite attention.

"It's great if you're rock-solid and you have five rock-solid guys and you know who they are and they're battle-tested and you know that," Philbin said. "That's great. You keep them in the same positions and work them, and get that cohesiveness. Is that important? Sure, I'd love to have it that way.

"But some people get injured, you move some pieces around. I'd love to be the Giants where at one point this year, I think they had 38 or 39 straight games where those guys started every game. That would be wonderful. But I'm not sure we're there yet."

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