The big O: Ranking the best and worst Packers offensive lines of all time
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If one non-replacement-ref grievance can be filed against the 6-3, second-place Green Bay Packers, it can be addressed to the team’s consistently underperforming offensive line. Through nine games, the line has cleared pinholes for Green Bay backs to run through, resulting in just 897 rushing yards—162 of those on the fleeing feet of Aaron Rodgers—which is 23rd in the NFL, and more than 100 yards below the rushing totals that Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch have each amassed already. No Packers rusher has a 100-yard (or even a 90-yard) game this season.
Despite the Packers pass-first mentality that might partially explain the low rushing totals, Rodgers has rarely looked comfortable in the pocket. Being sacked 29 times in nine contests (including eight in a single half!) can do that to a man. And that was when the line was relatively healthy. Starting tackle Bryan Bulaga joined Derek Sherrod on injured reserve this week after sustaining a week-eight hip injury. Bulaga’s season ending means T.J. Lang has to move from guard to tackle, leaving Lang’s vacant guard spot to Evan Dietrich-Smith (whose career highlight to this point is being stomped on by Ndomukong Suh last year) and a pair of undrafted rookies in Greg Van Roten and Don Barclay as the only reserves.
The O-line might not be pretty, but let’s hope for the best. While we prepare to hold our collective breath every time Rodgers drops back, The A.V. Club wants to focus on some of the best and worst Packers linemen of all time, to both recall the good times in the trenches and to remember it can always get worse.
Jerry Kramer – G (1958-68)
Though he was a key component of the famed sweep that brought five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls to Green Bay, Jerry Kramer is best known for clearing a Bart Starr-sized hole on the goal line in the unforgettable Ice Bowl. Not only was the guard among the best offensive linemen of his (or any) era, the five-time All-Pro also served as Green Bay’s kicker during the 1962, 1963, and 1968 seasons. Kramer’s absence in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame is widely regarded to be an egregious oversight on behalf of voters.
Forrest Gregg – G/T (1956-70)
Fortunately, Canton didn’t turn its cheek on the other Hall Of Fame-caliber lineman of the Lombardi era Packers. Long before Brett Favre’s amazing consecutive games streak, Gregg appeared in the trenches for 188 consecutive games during Green Bay’s dynasty. Even today, he’s regarded not only as one of the greatest Packers of all time, but one of the NFL’s greatest players of all time—which makes up for his 25-37-1 record as Green Bay’s head coach from 1984 to 1987.
Frank Winters – C (1992-2002)
After languishing on the sideline in Cleveland, New York, and Kansas City for a combined five seasons, Winters finally found an opportunity in Green Bay. Here, Winters earned a starting job, a Pro Bowl spot, a Super Bowl ring, and the awesome nickname “Bag O’ Donuts.” Ironically, being flanked by loathsome best friends Brett Favre and Mark Chmura for most of his career has protected Winters from seeming more deplorable by comparison.
Fuzzy Thurston – G (1959-67)
Frederick Charles Thurston was better known to Packers faithful by the moniker “Fuzzy,” which perfectly describes the guard’s warm and endearing personality. Between his rural Wisconsin roots, claiming he pre-gamed with cocktails to keep warm in the Ice Bowl, and owning a tavern in Green Bay, Thurston is the hands-down fan favorite of the unstoppable line that also included the likes of Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo, Gregg, and Kramer.
Ken Ruettgers – T (1985-96)
This spot could very well be occupied by Chad Clifton, who protected the blindsides of Favre and Rodgers admirably from 2000 through last season. But Ruettgers did it first and, arguably, better. The dependable first round pick was a pillar during Green Bay’s lengthy transition from laughing stock to Super Bowl champions.
Kevin Berry – T (2002-05)
Though technically listed as a tackle, the Racine native’s true position was “now reporting as an eligible receiver.” Whenever Berry came off the sideline to play tight end, fans knew two things would happen: the Packers were going to run and it was going to work.
Tony Mandarich – T (1989-91)
Barry Sanders. Derrick Thomas. Deion Sanders. Those three names appear directly beneath Mandarich’s on the 1989 draft board. The second overall pick donned Green and Gold for just 45 games (31 starts). If memory serves, those other three guys weren’t too shabby.
John Michels – T (1996-97)
Michels is the anti-Ken Ruettgers. Both hailed from USC, and a rare injury to the durable Ruettgers opened up a spot for his rookie first rounder teammate in what turned out to be a Super Bowl-winning season in ’96. Michels’ abbreviated sophomore season was also his last, as constant knee injuries quickly derailed his career, and made for a rare Ron Wolf draft miss.
Pretty much every lineman – C/G/T (1973-88)
That was some bad football right there.
Mark Tauscher – G (2000-10)
This has nothing to do with the former Badger’s more-than capable play during his lengthy and seldom-penalized career in Green Bay. However, wearing a personalized Brewers shirt jersey can’t go unpunished.