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JC Tretter biggest question mark on Packers' offensive line

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By Tyler Dunne
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 1, 2014

GREEN BAY--On the eve of training camp, coach Mike McCarthy set the bar high. This year’s offensive line, the Green Bay Packers coach said, could be his best yet.

Told this, David Bakhtiari’s head turns.

“He said that?” the left tackle cuts in, surprised.

The group’s reaction is no reaction.

“Don’t talk about it, be about it,” Bakhtiari said. “We could say we’re the best offensive line in the universe. But saying something only goes so far. How about we go out and prove it and let that speak for itself? Let your pads speak.”

The one wild card, the one whose pads must speak loudest, is JC Tretter. The center position is the great unknown on a front five that could be McCarthy’s best yet. The guards are set. The tackles, Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, both bulked up and are proven. Tretter, the second-year mystery, is running with the starters first.

Fifth-round pick Corey Linsley could challenge. For now, it’s Tretter’s turn.

And the last time Tretter faced anyone other than a teammate was Nov. 17, 2012, at Cornell.

“It’s been a while, been a while,” said Tretter with a laugh. “I’m focused on what I need to do. It’s ‘Go out there and earn a position.’ Earn a job. You can’t get worried about people worrying about you. You just have to go out there and prepare extremely hard and do your due diligence and earn it. Nothing’s given at this level.”

Publicly, nobody has expressed worry. Since May, everyone from McCarthy to James Campen to teammates has been raving over Tretter’s diligence behind the scenes.

Save for brief trips home to New York, Tretter was in Green Bay during the offseason.

This summer, the Packers will discover if Tretter is ready physically. The center lost 15 pounds of fat and added 15 pounds of muscle, a smart decision. Transitioning from Ivy League left tackle to NFL center—one breath away from the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh and the Seahawks’ Brandon Mebane—is a radical change.

“I wouldn’t say there were any concerns,” Tretter said. “I think it’s just getting more and more reps at it. It’s not that I go up to a play and think, ‘Oh man, this is going to be tough.’ That’s not part of it…. I didn’t play center, but I played left tackle in college. I’ve blocked people before. So it’s not a worry that way.”

True, Tretter has “blocked” people before. But there’s a major difference between having a split-second to set yourself at tackle and absorbing 340-pounders immediately after snapping the ball.

Asked what Tretter’s challenge is, left guard Josh Sitton says “everything” and then details why switching to center is so difficult.

“You have to get the ball up and that guy is a couple inches away,” Sitton said. “At guard and tackle, you’re a little further back. The biggest thing is having that reaction, that very quick-twitch reaction with the guy so close to you. Because he was telling me, he’s used to having a couple steps playing tackle and then reacting.”

Mentally, Sitton doesn’t expect any problems. He’ll assist Tretter with any calls and so will right guard T.J. Lang.

When in doubt, Bakhtiari said he always leaned on Sitton’s expertise. His No. 1 rule was “Josh is always right.” All game long, the two communicated to thwart twists. And Tretter himself has a stack of “8-10” notebooks filled with notes. Players couldn’t keep their iPad playbooks over the full offseason, so Tretter became an incessant note taker.

He’d scribble run/pass adjustments page after page after page and then carefully organize all of it into more coherent, organized sections.

“That’s what you have to do,” Tretter said. “You’ve got to be ready for any look possible.”

Yet, much like every profession, you learn by doing. You learn, Tretter adds, by seeing a linebacker “mug up, drop back and go out” in real time. You learn by physically taking on 337-pound B.J. Raji every day in practice.

The first two days in full pads were rocky for Tretter. In his first one-on-one octagon, Tretter was slammed into the ground twice by Raji, precisely the body type he’ll be facing on Sundays.

As Bakhtiari noted, nobody talked about his game until the pads came on. He flustered Clay Matthews, holding his own day in and day out, and McCarthy mentioned his name up at the podium.

As Bakhtiari said early in camp, “the truth is told” for linemen in pads.

“You can always learn more,” Bakhtiari said, “but if he puts on the pads and is just locking dudes down and mauling them over, at that point, if he’s doing his job it’s tough to not let him play.”

So while McCarthy again expressed faith in Tretter on Wednesday—“I can’t tell you if there is someone in the locker room that’s prepared himself as much as he has”—the coaches will need to see improvement in his daily duels with Raji.

Along the way, they’ll want him to push the pace. The Packers didn’t deem Evan Dietrich-Smith polished enough to match the four-year, $14.25 million deal he received from Tampa Bay, but he was comfortable in the no-huddle.

Tretter, a point-forward back on the Akron (N.Y.) High School basketball team, will need to move fast.

And take on refrigerator-built nose tackles. And understand the offense. And get to the second level in the run game.

Expectations are high for the Packers’ line—just ask McCarthy. As Tretter says himself, nobody wants “any weak links” on the field.

“I’ve done everything physically,” Tretter said. “I’ve done everything mentally. Now, it’s just going out there and getting the reps and getting ready for Seattle and beyond.”



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