Tough Decisions Made Up Front

BARBRE, SPITZ, SITTON EARN JOBS ON O-LINE The coaching staff has settled on a starting offensive line heading into Friday’s third preseason game at Arizona, and barring an injury or significant drop-off in performance, this is the line the offense will open the regular season with on Sept. 13 vs. Chicago. It’s Allen Barbre at RT, Josh Sitton at RG, Jason Spitz at C, Daryn Colledge at LG and Chad Clifton at LT.

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BARBRE, SPITZ, SITTON EARN JOBS ON O-LINE

Making some difficult calls, the Packers coaching staff has settled on a starting offensive line heading into Friday's third preseason game at Arizona, and at this point barring an injury or significant drop-off in performance, this is the line the offense will open the regular season with on Sept. 13 vs. Chicago.

It's Allen Barbre at right tackle, Josh Sitton at right guard, Jason Spitz at center, Daryn Colledge at left guard and Chad Clifton at left tackle.

The last two spots were never in question during training camp, but the first three have been the subject of legitimate competition. Barbre and second-year pro Breno Giacomini had been battling for the starting right tackle job, while all three center-right guard combinations among Sitton, Spitz (who plays both spots) and center Scott Wells were being used on a regular basis.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged none of the decisions was particularly easy, but the coaching staff placed a greater premium on settling things now to get a set group established and playing together than on allowing the close competitions to continue.

"If they keep progressing, this is who we'll line up with," said McCarthy, adding that he, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and offensive line coaches James Campen and Jerry Fontenot discussed all the options at great length Sunday and Monday. "This is the five, and we're going to give it a chance to generate the continuity that you establish when you do have five offensive linemen taking all the reps together. That will be determined clearly on production, their rate of production.

"So if they continue to produce, we'll continue to have continuity with these five and we'll move forward. If it doesn't, we've got guys that are champing at the bit and that are ready to go."

At right tackle, the decision came down to Barbre simply being ahead of Giacomini in the overall development of two players who have never been NFL starters. Barbre made the switch from left guard to right tackle this offseason, but Giacomini missed all of the offseason work while recovering from an ankle injury.

McCarthy said Giacomini's response to the news was to ask if the competition could go one more week, an indication he knew he's been coming on strong since getting to practice fully in camp. But for now Barbre, who failed in his bid to unseat Colledge at left guard a year ago, is getting the first shot to establish himself as the heir apparent to Mark Tauscher.

"It's a great sense of accomplishment, that I achieved my goal that I set for myself, one of my many goals, but that's just one of them and I've got to keep stacking them," said Barbre, now in his third year out of Missouri Southern State. "I want to keep working hard and keep getting better, and you never know. I feel like I'm not even close to reaching my potential, and I'll just keep getting better and give it all I've got."

On the interior, McCarthy noted that leaving Wells out of the starting lineup was the most difficult call to make. He said he feels the team has two starting-caliber centers in Spitz and Wells, and that Wells, the elder statesman of the trio with five seasons and 42 starts at center over the past three years under his belt, had graded out very high in the preseason thus far.

But he pointed to Sitton's improvement and overall physical play at right guard, and the coaching staff's evaluation of the combination of Spitz and Sitton together, as determining factors.

"Scott is a professional," McCarthy said. "I didn't expect him to be excited and he was not. We personally talked one-on-one at length about it. He had a few questions and I answered them very honestly. He understands why we made that move.

"We feel very good about our whole offensive line as a group, definitely a lot better than we have in the past."

For Sitton, the decision gives him a chance to nail down the starting job he had earned last year as a rookie before a knee injury in the third preseason game at Denver changed the course of his season. He ended up sitting out the first five games and got only two starts.

"It's just a product of my hard work, and I just have to take this opportunity and run with it and continue to improve and continue to do the little things right so I can be a solid part of this line," said Sitton, a fourth-round draft pick out of Central Florida in 2008.

"There ain't no resting easy. They set a depth chart and what not but there's always still competition no matter what they say or no matter what the depth chart might be."

{sportsad300}Spitz can attest to that. A starter at three different positions during his first three seasons here, Spitz has proven valuable as a versatile lineman who can help the line deal with injuries that crop up.

He's still capable of shifting around if needed, but for now, he'll be focusing on the position some NFL scouts projected as his best spot in the pros during evaluations for the 2006 draft.

"I've had a lot of work with 'Campy' and Fontenot the last couple of years, the technique and stuff like that," Spitz said, referring to his two position coaches, who were both centers as NFL players. "I can't truly say whether it's my best position or not. I think I've done a fair job at it and I'll continue to work.

"I'm just happy to be playing. Whether it's one spot or not, that has yet to be determined. You never know what's going to happen. We still have a bunch of versatile guys, it's a long season. You can't count on someone getting injured, but it's an unfortunate part of our business. For right now, it will be nice to get with five guys, go through the rest of the preseason and see what happens."

What they hope to see is a group that works together, stays together and succeeds. Time will tell if that's how it plays out.

"I'm real excited about what we've got and what we bring to the table as an O-line," Barbre said. "It's real exciting to see what we can do on film and I'm looking forward to the season. I think we'll have a great season. If we don't lose focus, I think we can be something special."

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