The main stories coming out of Monday night's Packer preseason game against the Bengals were well covered. Rodgers makes his debut as a starter and looks pretty solid. Brandon Jackson actually looks like an NFL running back. James Jones is one tough nut. Abdul Hodge looks like the Iowa tackling machine again. The team's 7th round rookie QB may be better than its 2nd round rookie QB. All pretty standard.
After tivoing the game on Monday though, I decided to watch it again last night, trying to focus on one aspect of the game-- the Packers offensive line play, in particular the performance of the guards. That's really the one area on the offense that's open to competition. Last year, the interior of the offensive line was generally Scott Wells at center, '06 third round draft pick Jason Spitz at RG, and '06 second round Darryn Colledge at LG. Added to the mix this training camp are '08 fourth rounder Josh Sitton and '07 fourth rounder Allen Barbre, both guards. At the start of camp, Barbre was scheduled to compete with Colledge for the LG spot, while Sitton would back up Spitz at RG. But then Wells injured a muscle in his back, forcing Spitz to center for most of training camp so far. Sitton stepped in as the first-line RG and by all reports had been performing great in practice. This led to some talk of Sitton starting as a rookie at RG, and Spitz bumping both Colledge and Barbre at LG, with Wells at center.
Then came the first couple of series against the Bengals. Sitton visibly struggled. He got knocked down on a run to the right, letting his guy make a tackle for a loss. He failed to pick up an end running a delayed stunt on the pass to Driver that DD dropped. Remember how Rodgers got hit in the legs right as he threw that ball? That's because Sitton failed to switch to his new man. And remember that nifty Brandon Jackson run where Jackson ducked under the arms of the long-haired Bengals DT? Uh, yeah, that DT was only in the position to nail Jackson in the backfield because Sitton let him slither by. I also saw him get beat on another pass play, but it was a quick throw so it ended up not mattering, and saw him give up some ground on bull rushes on at least a couple occasions. Now otherwise, Sitton played pretty solid ball, not giving up any direct sacks and looking pretty mobile, but for a guy who was garnering solid praise in camp, this was disappointing.
That said, Allen Barbre played a bunch of snaps at RG and was not at all disappointing. I didn't see him give up a pressure, he looked very mobile (he was the only lineman near Jackson at the end of his 22 yard run), and he actually pancaked a couple of guys on runs.
With all the warm bodies the Packers have at the guard slots (Spitz, Sitton, Colledge, Barbre, not to mention Tony Moll, Junius Coston, and other assorted rookie free agents), the team has been saying the right things, that they'll have the best five linemen on the field. If Wells heals up, after one preseason game the top 5 look like Clifton, Barbre, Wells, Spitz and Tauscher, from left to right. Barbre looks like a serious upgrade over last season's Colledge, and he could give the line a bit more physicality and strength on run downs.
Finally, it's early still, but I'd say the bells are starting to ring for Coston and Moll. They've had their time and their shots and haven't done much.
Update--- apparently the coaching staff continues to really like Sitton. He's still playing with the ones in practice, even with Wells back at center, and Spitz has bumped both Barbre and Colledge at left guard.