When the Packers line up against the Bills in their home opener at Lambeau Field this Sunday, Sitton will be starting his 19th straight game at right guard, the only position on the line that has seen that kind of stability over that span. He was the only offensive lineman to open all 16 games at one spot in ’09, and he also played every offensive snap, the only Packer on either side of the ball last season to not miss a snap with his unit.
“As an offensive lineman, you don’t want to hear your name that often I guess,” Sitton said. “I really don’t pay attention to it. I’m sure my family does. My mom, she is a Packer nut. She reads everything and is into that. I don’t really care too much. I’m just here to play football.”
Sitton has done just that ever since he entered the starting lineup for good in Week 17 of his rookie season in 2008. Drafted in the fourth round out of Central Florida that spring, Sitton appeared to have won the starting right guard job in training camp his first season, but sustained a knee injury at Denver in the third preseason contest that sidelined him for the first three games of the regular season.
Sitton got his first start in Week 8 at Tennessee that season when the line was forced to do some shuffling with veteran left tackle Chad Clifton out with an illness, but his rookie year consisted primarily of spot duty and time on extra points and field goals until he started the season finale.
“It wasn’t a major injury that I had, but it was four or five weeks,” said Sitton, who played in all 50 games in college with 43 starts. “I hadn’t really gone through that before, so it was tough mentally, just going through that whole process of getting healthy and getting the confidence back. I kind of got over it quick. I knew my role. ‘I am the sixth man now, and I am going to be ready to play each and every week.’ I just kind of rolled with it.”
Sitton was firmly entrenched as the starter from Day 1 last season, and helped Ryan Grant post a career-high 1,253 rushing yards and the offense register 6,065, the third-best single-season mark in franchise annals. Going into the offseason, Sitton said his primary goal was to refine fundamentals such as footwork and hand placement.
“I felt like I had a good season, but I wanted to start working on the smaller details of the game, and I think I have done that,” Sitton said. “I think I did that throughout the offseason and carried it into camp. I wanted to become a more complete lineman and work on all of those little details to become a great offensive lineman.
“You can win a block, but there are certain things you can do differently to make it a lot easier on yourself. Just small things like having your hands inside and things like that.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin credited Sitton’s continued development of his fundamentals, but also pointed to his coming into camp in the best shape of his career. Sitton, who is listed at 317, said he dropped close to 10 pounds this offseason, primarily through a healthier diet.
“I just kind of thought if I lost a few pounds and some body fat I would be a little bit faster,” Sitton said. “I wanted to make sure I kept my strength, which I think I did. I feel a lot better. I feel more conditioned out there. I feel like I can get around the field better and get off the ball a little bit quicker now.”
Known best for his run-blocking, that added mobility has helped Sitton develop his pass-protection skills as well.
“He’s very solid as a pass blocker,” Philbin said. “He has a very good anchor, a very good base. We attempt to teach those guys, ‘Look, at the very least, if you take away the direct rush lane of the defender you are assigned to, the guy has got to at least run through you.’
“Josh is a big guy, has good mass, and has got a good, powerful lower body. He is a hard guy for people to just take and walk back to the quarterback. Inside, you need somebody that can anchor or set his base and not get pushed back. I think he does a good job of that.”
In the season opener at Philadelphia, Sitton was part of a line that helped three different backs post explosive runs (12 yards or more), with all of those runs coming on one of the Packers’ three touchdown drives. It was the first time the Packers offense had accomplished that since Dec. 19, 2005, at Baltimore, when running backs Samkon Gado, Noah Herron and Tony Fisher all recorded 12-plus-yard gains.
On a 13-yard gain by Grant midway through the second quarter last Sunday, Sitton did a good job of sealing off Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson, and did that again two plays later when Grant picked up 18. When John Kuhn picked up 12 yards on a third-quarter run, Sitton drove Patterson down the field as he helped Kuhn pick up extra yardage. On the next play, he cleared out Eagles defensive tackle Trevor Laws to help spring Jackson for an 11-yard gain.
“He has familiarity with the scheme, but he just has an overall understanding of how football is played,” center Scott Wells said. “He understands footwork, leverage, what he has to do to get the blocks done, and he knows how to use his strengths to his advantage. He is a big player, so he is able to use that weight and push on guys and kind of neutralize a defensive tackle’s weight.”
After some shuffling at the positions next to him in the first half of ‘09, Sitton said he has benefited from the continuity that comes from having Wells and veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher alongside him every snap. That chemistry started to develop down the stretch last season when the line opened up with the same five players in each of the last seven games, and now Sitton says they are at a point where he “knows what they are going to say before they say it.”
“It helps a lot because you are able to build off your strengths and recognize the weaknesses and address those,” Wells said. “When you have the same guys, you can say how we are going to work a combination block, how we work a single block, and then you can rep at practice to get more comfortable doing it.
“If we are double-teaming a ‘three-technique’, I know how he is going to step and I know how to anticipate how Josh is going to set it up for me and what I need to do to finish the block, and I think that works vice versa.”
The offensive line will be in the spotlight even more now with the back-to-back 1,200-yard rusher Grant out for the season with an ankle injury, but Sitton said his approach and the rest of the line’s won’t change with Jackson taking on the lead-back role.
“Half the time I don’t know who is back there,” Sitton said. “I am focused on me, and I am pretty sure I can speak for the rest of the guys. We are doing what we have to do no matter who is back there. I think the backs we have got now are just as capable, so we’re not going to really think about that. We are going to block our butts off no matter what.”
And if Green Bay’s offensive production continues, Sitton is confident he and his fellow lineman will get that respect that they are constantly working for.
“I am a firm believer that when you win as a team, all the personal stuff comes along with it,” Sitton said. “My No. 1 goal is to win a championship. Obviously I think everyone in this locker room would tell you that they want to play at a Pro Bowl-level. I don’t think we would be in this league if we didn’t have that competitive drive about us.” Additional coverage – Sept. 16