More power and less finesse is a good thing for the Packer offensive line.
One of the most interesting comments I ever heard from John Madden was when he was asked to consider the question of why the Denver Broncos’ zone blocking scheme, which was so successful for them, had not spread to the rest of the NFL. Madden speculated that because this scheme requires linemen who are smaller and more agile than most, there is not enough bulk for solid pass protection. The Broncos may have been able to overcome this disadvantage simply because they found smaller linemen who were exceptionally talented. Also, it helped that their offensive line coach was Alex Gibbs, who is generally credited with inventing the scheme.
When Mike McCarthy came to Green Bay in 2006, he decided to adopt the zone blocking scheme. He hired Jeff Jagodzinski, who had worked under Gibbs in Atlanta, as offensive coordinator, and Ted Thompson began drafting smaller, finesse-type offensive linemen. Three years later, it is hard to claim that the Packer offense has benefited from this trade-off of power for agility on the OL. Jagodzinski was gone after just one year, hired away by Boston College. The Packers had some success with their running game during the second half of the 2007 season, but they were shut down by the Giants in the playoffs and struggled throughout 2008. The pass blocking has been inconsistent during the McCarthy era, and at times we’ve seen our linemen overpowered by bull rush moves.
But this may be changing. Mike McCarthy has always maintained that the Packers do not run a pure ZBS offense, but rather, a hybrid between ZBS and more traditional power running plays. And it now appears that the trend is toward more power running plays and larger, more powerful linemen who can execute those plays.
While the left side of the line will remain unchanged, with Chad Clifton and Darryn Colledge both returning, we are likely to see changes at the other three positions. Jason Spitz, who at 307 pounds is a bit larger and stronger than Scott Wells (300 lbs.), is expected to win the battle for the starting center position. If this happens, it will allow second-year man Josh Sitton to step in at right guard. At 6’3” and 317 pounds, Sitton is closer to the power-blocking prototype and is reputed to have a mean streak. He was slated to start last year until he was injured in the final preseason game.
Right tackle is the position where the Packers are in the greatest danger of taking a step backward. At 316 pounds (probably more than that in his later years), Mark Tauscher was the team’s best drive blocker, and now he is gone because of the knee injury sustained late last season. His most likely replacement at this point is Allen Barbre, who at 305 pounds is smaller than Tauscher. However, Tauscher appeared to be in decline last season even before his injury, and Barbre is considered to be the Packers’ most athletic offensive lineman. To win the job, he will have to hold off a pair of bigger men: rookie T.J. Lang (316 lbs.) and second-year man Breno Giacomini (311 lbs.).
In football, one rule of thumb is that you use whichever schemes are best suited to the strengths of your players. The match between the scheme and the personnel is more important than the scheme itself. And with the trend toward larger, more powerful offensive linemen, we can expect more power running plays. This may be neither a good nor a bad thing in and of itself, but it could provide an important fringe benefit in the passing game, as our linemen may be less likely to be overpowered by defenders. Speaking strictly as a fan, I’m looking forward to an offensive line that is a little stronger and a little meaner. And I won’t be surprised if that attitude rubs off on the entire team.