After the Green Bay Packers’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons, we were quick to point out the offensive line’s ineffectual run blocking. It was pretty clear after the loss that everyone not named Josh Sitton was struggling in the running game and the stats backed it up.
The Packers showed improvement against an inferior opponent in the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, rushing for a respectable 136 yards, but that still doesn’t make guys like Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, and Scott Wells great run blockers. Of course, I’m leaving out rookie Bryan Bulaga simply because he’s a rookie, still has a lot to learn and should conceivably improve.
There’s hope the players that can help the Packers running game improve are already on their roster, though, at least if you believe Mike McCarthy.
The Packers coach has been trumpeting the progress of two relatively forgotten players — tackle T.J. Lang and guard/center Nick McDonald.
Lang was supposed to come into his second season and push for a starting spot at right tackle, but an offseason wrist injury slowed him and that never happened. After missing the offseason program, Lang played terribly during the preseason and seemed to fall out of favor.
McDonald, on the other hand, came out of nowhere to make the Packers’ roster as an undrafted rookie from Grand Valley State. Of course, he hasn’t been active for a single game, this season.
There’s a reasonable chance both could be competing for starting spots as early as next season, though.
Lang has worked his way back up the depth chart and is now the primary backup at both tackle positions.
“If training camp began today, he would be pushing for a spot,” McCarthy said. “I think he had a little bit of a setback with that wrist injury and the amount of time he missed in the spring and going into training camp, but I like what I see in T.J. Lang.”
McDonald, meanwhile, has made major strides in making the transition from a Division II school to the NFL. Although he played guard in college, he’s also been used at center with the Packers.
“That kid’s going to be a good player,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think Nick McDonald will be on my team for a long time. I think that kid’s coming fast.”
If McCarthy is right about these two guys and isn’t just spewing nonsense, the makeup of the Packers offensive line could be drastically different, next season.
The only spot that’s already wrapped up going into next season is right guard, where Sitton is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Bulaga could slide back to his natural position at left tackle, Lang could step in at right tackle and McDonald could take over for Colledge at left guard or Wells at center.
Between Colledge and Wells, Wells has probably played at a slightly higher level, this season. Colledge is a free agent after the season and seems unlikely to be re-signed.
The Packers also might take another look at Jason Spitz, who was the starting center before getting injured during the 2009 season and was supposed to compete with Colledge for the left guard spot during training camp — a competition that never materialized. Spitz, of course, is also scheduled to be a free agent after the season.
If the Packers choose to re-sign Spitz and not Colledge, the team could have new starters at four offensive line positions in 2011.
Who knows how this will play out, but some turnover on the offensive line doesn’t look like it will hurt the Packers running game.