Packers still searching for two starting guards

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Stop us if you've heard this one before: The Green Bay Packers are deep into training camp and don't yet know who their starting guards will be for the season opener.

Green Bay's guard situation hasn't truly been settled since Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle left town after the 2004 season. And while the Packers might have been wise from a financial perspective not to keep them, the team hasn't yet been able to find consistent replacements.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he doesn't have a specific timeline to name this year's starters, making the team's three remaining preseason games critical.

"Ideally, you'd like to have it yesterday, but that's not the case," McCarthy said. "So I think those questions will be answered based on how they play."

The problem isn't new, but some of the potential solutions are.

Third-year player Jason Spitz is likely to start -- it's just not clear where. But Daryn Colledge, a draft classmate of Spitz's who also has been a starter in each of his first two seasons, is on less secure footing as a pair of even younger players are giving the Packers a moment of pause: Second-year player Allen Barbre and rookie Josh Sitton.

"We're going to try to figure out who our best five are," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think we've for sure got three of them figured out, and we're going to try to get the last two spots, we've got four or five guys working for it. It's going to be good. Competition is a good thing for our offense."

Starting tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are cornerstones of the franchise. Center Scott Wells also appears to be entrenched, assuming his back injury doesn't flare up again.

And while a cohesive starting five on the offensive line is considered critical to success in the NFL, there could be an upside to competition: If a starter is injured during the season, the rest of the line will have already played alongside his replacement.

"That's the way it's kind of played out the last three years," Wells said. "Each year they've had a competition and the best guards are emerging and that's who they put out on the field. In the long run, when somebody gets hurt, you've got guys who are ready to play."

Spitz, a third-round pick out of Louisville in 2006, has started 25 games over the past two regular seasons. He was expected to start at right guard coming into camp, but spent time at center while Wells was injured and has been working at left guard in practice this week.

Spitz seems confident he'll start, but even he doesn't know where.

"I would hope so," Spitz said. "But I can't really control who goes in where. The only thing I can control is how well I play. I'll do my best, and hopefully that puts me in the starting lineup."

Colledge started 15 games as a rookie and the first 12 games at left guard last season, but was sent to the bench late in the year as coaches began tinkering with the line. He had his job back in time for the playoffs, but nothing is assured this year.

"I'm sure they'd love to have five guys that step up and are going to be the five dudes," Colledge said. "And I'd love to be one of those dudes. For some reason right now, I'm not being that guy. I have to figure out what that reason is and what it takes to be the starting left guard here, and I'm going to bust my (rear end) here until I figure that out."

He's being pushed hard by Barbre and Sitton.

Barbre, a fourth-round pick out of Missouri Southern State last season, needed a year to make the jump from Division II college football to the NFL.

"I'm confident in the scheme, I'm confident with the players, I'm confident with myself," Barbre said. "So it makes things a lot different. As I look back, I've come a long ways, I've gotten a lot better, but there's tons of room to grow."

Sitton, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Central Florida, has been one of the biggest surprises of training camp. Wells said Sitton quickly adapted to the offense and the speed of pro football.

But Sitton had some rough moments in Monday's preseason loss to Cincinnati, failing to adjust to specific defensive line techniques.

"You're always saying in the back of your head, 'There could be someone better than me. There could be someone better than me,"' Sitton said. "And so every day you're, not questioning yourself, but you can't take anything for granted. I've always known I had the ability. It's just a matter of putting it all together."

McCarthy has said he wants to keep Sitton on the right side and Barbre on the left -- so if Sitton or Colledge winds up as the starting left guard, Spitz could start in his familiar spot on the right side. But if Barbre wins a starting job, Spitz could move to the left side.

Spitz said he doesn't mind moving around for the sake of the team.

"It's something you have to get used to," Spitz said. "They ask us and expect us to play multiple positions, so that's what we're supposed to do. That's our job."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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