The Great Guard Disaster of 2005
There was no chance Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle would return to the Green Bay Packers for the 2005 season.
The pair had started every game together since 2001. Rivera was just coming off his third consecutive Pro Bowl. Wahle, at a monstrous 6-6 and 307 pounds, was just 28. But there was no chance either one would be back.
2005 was the first year of the Ted Thompson era. The new general manager was hell-bent on reshaping the Packers woefully managed cap situation. That meant cutting costs, immediately. That meant little money available for the Packers’ prestigious guards.
Of course, it may not have made any difference. The Cowboys backed up the Brinks truck for Rivera, giving the 32-year-old a five year, $20 million contract. His $9 million signing bonus equalled the largest ever given out to an interior lineman at that time.
Contract details are less readily available for Wahle, but one report pegs his contract at five years and $25 million.
Undeterred, Thompson replaced his two workhorses with a cavalcade of journeymen. NFL luminaries like Adrian Klemm, Matt O’Dwyer, Grey Ruegamer, Atlas Herrion, and 2005 seventh round pick Will Whitticker each got shots at filling the guard spots. Future starting center Scott Wells was even in the competition for a time.
The results were...mixed. At best. A report from after the third preseason game of 2005 indicates that Whitticker hardly won the job on merit.
“In a game in which he could have locked up the starting right guard job with a solid showing, Whitticker watched himself allow Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour a free shot on quarterback Brett Favre on a stunt, then saw himself fail to sustain several blocks in the run game,” Jason Wilde wrote.
O’Dwyer and Herrion were released after the game, and the job fell to Whitticker. He’d start fourteen games at right guard in 2005.
Left guard wasn’t much better. Klemm, Ruegamer, and Wells battled for playing time, and Klemm would eventually lead the way, starting eight games for the Packers that year.
The nature of offensive line play makes it difficult to truly explain how bad the Packers situation was that year, but one anecdote should illustrate the point, as Wilde writes:
“The Packers still have the option of moving right tackle Mark Tauscher inside to right guard and starting Kevin Barry at right tackle, but offensive line coach Larry Beightol has said repeatedly he doesn’t want to make such a move because it would weaken the offense’s popular U-71 formation, in which Barry enters the game as a blocking tight end.”
So in summary, the Packers were torn between playing a guy at right guard who had never played right guard or maintaining the integrity of a gimmick play. Rough times in Green Bay.
The on-field product reflected the instability of the offensive line. The rushing game was particularly poor. The Packers finished 2005 ranked 30th in rushing yards and 31st in yards per attempt. That’s probably due in part to injury woes in the offensive backfield. Ahman Green played just five games that season, and the Packers replaced him with the unimposing committee of Samkon Gado, Tony Fisher, Noah Herron, and Najeh Davenport.
Things would improve. After the 4-12 2005 campaign, Thompson acquired Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz in the 2006 draft, then brought Josh Sitton on board in 2008. T.J. Lang came along in 2009, and the Packers’ offensive line has been more or less set ever since.
Rivera and Wahle, meanwhile, would go on to have their own difficulties. Rivera endured two injury plagued seasons in Dallas before retiring due to a litany of aching joints.
Wahle made the Pro Bowl in 2005, but regressed the next two seasons before he was cut by the Panthers. He stuck it out for one more year with the Seahawks before he, too, retired due to injury concerns.
Thompson, it seems, may have picked the exact right time to move on from his guards. 2005 may have been a disaster, but 2006 and beyond have been much brighter for the Packers’ offensive line.