Larry Beightol coaches up the O-Line
Only one practice remains in the Packers' second and final mini-camp, but if it were up to offensive line coach Larry Beightol, Wednesday's workout would drag on forever.
It's not that he's dreading training camp or the upcoming season, it's just that these are pleasant times for Beightol, who not only thrives on mentoring new recruits, but happily returns all five starters on an offensive line that last year allowed only 22 quarterback sacks and opened holes for running back Ahman Green to have another 1,000-yard season.
"I think it's about 1993 since that's happened for me," the 59-year-old Beightol said of returning his five starters. "In my 18th year of doing this, it's certainly nice to have . . .
"If they were all coming back and they weren't good football players it would be a sad occasion. The fact that they are good football players makes it a nice thing."
Not since the 1974 Packers allowed only 17 sacks had five men provided Green Bay with a more formidable front line than did left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Mike Wahle, center Mike Flanagan, right guard Marco Rivera and right tackle Mark Tauscher last year.
With Flanagan and Rivera the elders of the group entering their seventh NFL seasons, Beightol said the relatively youthful line should be even better in 2002.
"We're big, we're strong, we're fast, I think that they're an explosive group," he said. "As long as they'll compete, which I know they will, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape."
In addition to his returnees, Beightol has been pleased with the progress of sixth-round draft choice Mike Houghton and rookie free agent acquisitions Kevin Barry and Andy Eby. With newcomers still learning many of the intricacies of the offense, it won't be until the pads go on in training camp that the coaching staff will fully understand what ingredients they have at their disposal.
"We'll crank it up when (training) camp comes, we've just kind of been low-keying it right now," Beightol said. "We'll get our game faces on and get ready to go and have some fun when we do come to (training) camp."
Which is not to imply that mini-camp is void of contact or fun. Although a rocket from Brett Favre is not to be denied, the one-on-one drills between members of the Packers offensive and defensive line units have ranked among the most entertaining moments of mini-camp, if not for the test of technique, than at least for the trash-talking involved.
Leading the gabbing without fail is Flanagan, the drill's unofficial play-by-play analyst and court jester. Since the 2000 preseason, no duel passes without his review.
It all dates back to a mini-camp practice in which he watched a rookie tackle out of Wisconsin handle then-second-year defensive end Vonnie Holliday.
"When Tauscher came in as a rookie, Tausch beat (Holliday) a couple times," Flanagan explained. "I just said, 'Hey, we're going to have to go back to high school to get someone that Vonnie can beat,' because Tausch was two plays into his rookie season. It just started from there."
While all in fun, the verbal sparring has a practical benefit -- heightening the spirit of competition, for both the offense and the defense.
"Billy Lyon is a really good friend of ours and you get a little rivalry going and you want to see everyone give their best out there," Flanagan explained. "Eby's gotten Billy Lyon a couple times this camp and we've been on Billy about it. It's all about trying to raise the level of competition."
Certainly the drill brought out the best in rookie defensive lineman Aaron Kampman in Monday's practice. After failing a one-on-one battle with Clifton, Kampman lined up against Houghton the following play and charged over the 313-pounder like a bull in Pamplona.
"It's unrealistic to think you're going to win every one," Kampman said. "You try to learn as much as you can when you win as when you lose. That's the attitude you have to have."
As with the one-on-one drills, members of the Packers offensive line know that they are only as good as their last down. For all of the accomplishments of 2001, no stats will protect the franchise quarterback or spring Green from the backfield in 2002.
"All that preseason stuff, that doesn't mean anything," Flanagan said of the hype. "Everyone says we're going to be great, but we haven't done anything this year. I think we have a chance to go out and do some good things, but until we go out and do it, all of this is just talk."
Flanagan and his mates on the O-line have been doing a lot of talking this mini-camp, hoping that come the regular season, their play speaks for itself.