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Versatile Players Fill In Along Offensive Line


As reporters surrounded his locker and the flash bulbs of cameras popped in front of him, center Scott Wells flapped his eyelids a few times.

Injuries along the offensive line have thrust the second-year player into the public glare. After center Mike Flanagan suffered a muscle hernia during the first quarter of Monday's game, Wells replaced him in the starting lineup and will do so again this week.

"I'm approaching it like I did last week," Wells said. "I'm watching the film as a starter would and trying to be prepared for the first series."

Wells is not the only lineman to approach Sunday's game that way. Grey Ruegamer could start, and Adrian Klemm could start at a new position.

Left tackle Chad Clifton sprained his ankle during the first quarter of Monday's game, forcing Klemm to move from left guard to left tackle and Ruegamer to Klemm's left guard spot for the remainder of the contest.

Throughout training camp, the coaching staff emphasized the quality depth they had along the offensive line, and the unit held up well on Monday. Although they stressed the need to open more holes in the running game, the backups did not allow a sack despite a Carolina Panthers lead, which necessitated the Packers to throw the ball 26 times in the second half.

"That makeshift offensive line gave us a chance to win the game at the end," head coach Mike Sherman said. "They certainly helped us."

It also helps having a starting guard with loads of experience playing tackle. Klemm manned that position for six years -- three with the New England Patriots and three at the University of Hawaii.

"In the back of my head, I knew if something happened to Clifton, there was a chance I could go into tackle," Klemm said.

Although he played tackle before, Klemm played guard almost exclusively through training camp, preseason and the regular season this year. Occupying the perimeter position was difficult at first.

"I struggled early on, but as the game progressed," he said. "I got a little more comfortable."

Klemm practiced at left tackle this week, but the coaching staff has not determined if Clifton, listed as questionable, will play on Sunday.

Flanagan underwent a hernia operation on Wednesday morning and will not play this week, and Wells, who spent training camp at left guard alternating snaps with Klemm, will start on Sunday. He served as quarterback of the offensive line despite receiving about 10 snaps a game at center during regular season practices.

"He played well for a guy who hasn't received a whole lot of work there," Sherman said.

A second-year-player, Wells, did have the advantage of starting two games at center last year. Now he can better understand the defense's alignment and notice when they bring a safety down to the line of scrimmage.

"It's made it a lot easier," Wells said.

Spending the season observing Flanagan, a 10-year-veteran and maestro of the offense, provided further assistance.

"I can see what adjustments he makes," Wells said. "It's opened my eyes to other things. I don't have such tunnel vision in there."

With so many different faces in the lineup, rookie William Whitticker became one of two veteran holdovers on Monday along with right tackle Mark Tauscher.

"It does change your role," Whitticker said. "Guys stepped up."

The versatile Ruegamer was one of those guys. During training camp he started out at left guard before moving to center and then right guard. He played left guard during Monday's game. He started 11 games at center in 2004 when Flanagan went down with an injury.

"I feel comfortable enough to be able to step up where needed," Ruegamer said. "Wherever they ask me to fill in, I'm more than happy to do it."

A week of practice will only aid a group that meshed surprisingly well during Monday's game despite several substitutions. That bodes well for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

"As the game went on, I was able to make adjustments and get back into my old groove," Wells said. "We started to trust each other."

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