NFL Draft Countdown: Packers by position

Today: Offensive line. Next: Wide receivers and tight ends<P> The offensive line is a position that went from durable to decimated in the blink of an eye last year. Will 2003 see the return of the rock-solid offensive line, or will the Packers have to go shopping for reinforcements through the draft?<P>

When 2002 began, the Packers boasted an awesome set of starting tackles in Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. They arrived through opposite ends of the 2000 draft spectrum, Clifton a second-rounder and Tauscher in the 7th round, but they matured into a dynamic duo in front of Brett Favre. Hopes were high for Earl Dotson to finally shake off injury and contribute as well, and then add Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle at guards, and Mike Flanagan relieving 16-year veteran Frank Winters at center -- it looked like the offensive line was one of most solid units on the team.

Then came shattering injuries to Tauscher and Clifton. Flanagan moved over to provide experience, Winters returned his leadership to the needy lineup and unknown backups had to step up, including free agent signee Kevin Barry and former Badger Bill Ferrario. Suddenly, the offensive line, which rarely uses revolving door substitutions needed depth.

Will the Packers take the "once burned, twice shy" approach and try to bulk up their line through the draft?

"Offensively, you always want to get another offensive lineman," Head Coach/GM Mike Sherman said. "If you can, get a quarterback, a running back. If you get somebody who can play defensive back or return - or get a running back who can be a return guy. Those are all players that I'm looking for."

That said, it's unlikely that the Packers would spend their first round pick on an offensive lineman, given the prospects for recovery their veterans combined with their needs in other areas. Also, the conventional wisdom on drafting offensive linemen says to strike early and the Packers do not have a second-round pick which limits their early options.

The 2003 draft will not boast the kind of offensive line talent seen in previous years, which marks another reason why the Packers are not spending early round picks shopping here.

The top tackle candidate is Jordan Gross of Utah. He's a former tight end with very good athleticism. He'll be long gone by the time the Packers pick at No. 29. The next lineman to go in the first round could be Eric Steinbach (Iowa) or Kwame Harris (Stanford). Steinbach is the most versatile lineman, according to NFL. Com, because he can play at all the positions. George Foster of Georgia has seen his stock slip and now may be a late-first round pick or even a second-rounder. Wayne Hunter of Hawaii will also go in that neighborhood or maybe sooner.

Top centers are Jeff Faine of Notre Dame and Dan Koppen of Boston College.

Don't look for many guards to go high. Montrae Holland of Florida State will make some team happy as a run blocker.

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