Friday, December 26, 2008

Last game of the season? How 'bout a new O-line lineup?

When a team is 5-10, getting ready for the final game of the season before players pack up and head home, there is often a tendency on the part of coaches to start thinking about next season. It's only natural, after all. We fans do it too. OK, we really do want to beat the Lions...really, really, really must beat the Lions. But, we also are starting to think about the draft, possible coaching changes (at least special teams and defensive coordinator), free agent moves, etc.

Coaches may be doing some of that as well. But they also have a more immediate tool at their disposal: trying new lineups or giving certain players a bit more of a look. And that's what head coach Mike McCarthy is going to do Sunday. At least on the offensive line. As we sadly know, long-time veteran right tackle, Mark Tauscher, was lost for the season with an ACL injury. He also will be a free agent. Whether or not he returns to the Packers is an unknown. But even if he does, he may not be the same player given age and injury. In his place the last few games, the Pack has given Tony Moll the starts. After a fairly good showing taking over for Tauscher in the Houston game, he didn't do so well against the Jags and Da Bearz.

So, against the Lions, McCarthy is going to move Daryn Colledge from left guard to right tackle. Jason Spitz, who has been solid at right guard will move over to left guard. Rookie Josh Sitton is going to get the start at right guard. So, if you can follow the bouncing ball, left to right the starting offensive line on Sunday will be Chad Clifton, Jason Spitz, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton and Daryn Colledge.

Tony Moll, according to reports, isn't thrilled with the move, obviously. In his third season, Moll has had plenty of opportunities given the turmoil on the O-line during this same period of time to grab his spot. The fact that, after essentially getting the three last starts (really two plus early relief for Tauscher in the Texans game) coaches are yanking him in favor of a revamped line in the final game...well, it doesn't bode well for Moll long-term.

Harrell out...again
Speaking of not boding well long-term, second-year DT Justin Harrell is -- get ready -- out for Sunday's game. Not surprising. He hasn't been available much this season.

Since being Ted Thompson's surprise -- shocking, really -- 16th pick in the first round of the 2007 draft, Harrell has only played (a word used loosely here) in 13 of 31 games. He was walking wounded when Thompson picked him out of Tennessee and he's been walking wounded his entire time at Green Bay. In fact, after having two back surgeries this year he may have another in this off season.

We have to remind ourselves that it's not the young man's fault. By all accounts, he would be a fine character addition to the Packers community and the Green Bay community at large. The problem lies with Thompson, who took a reach on a player with a history of injuries in college and pegged him for a key role on a very needy defensive line. Harrell's lack of ability to be healthy, to be even available to play, has been just one of many problems with the Packers approach to defensive line personnel over the past two years.

It would not be surprising if, pending results from Harrell's next surgery, the Packers try to work out an injury settlement in the off season and put this sad and disasterous personnel matter behind them.

Thompson will need to open up the coffers and get at least one quality free agent defensive lineman in the off season. The Packers can't rely on draft picks for immediate impact, especially on the D-line. Thompson might be a slow learner in that regard. But if he's a realist -- and that might be debatable -- it should be one of the key lessons to be learned from this season.