Packers turn to rookie center Corey Linsley
GREEN BAY—Center JC Tretter is out indefinitely with a knee injury, but the Green Bay Packers are fortunate to have a capable replacement in rookie Corey Linsley.
Linsley, a fifth-round draft choice from Ohio State, has been as impressive as any of the team's nine selections in May.
“He could play and they wouldn't miss a beat,” one personnel man said after watching the Packers' exhibition opener. “He has that rare ability to stay in front of guys. Recovers well. Has balance and athleticism. Like him.”
Linsley's opportunity arose when Tretter, a fourth-round pick in 2013, came up with a left knee injury Friday night against Oakland that his agent described as “nothing surgical” and included no ligament damage.
“I don't know what they're calling it yet,” Alan Herman said Sunday. “But it seems to be some type of bone bruise. … I don't think it's anything that'll be an extended period of time.”
Herman added: “It could be three, four, five, six (weeks). It depends on how the Packers' doctors treat the injury.”
After Tretter was a surprise no-show Sunday for practice, coach Mike McCarthy announced that he would miss “multiple weeks.”
“This is the way the NFL is,” said McCarthy. “Injuries are a part of the game. It's unfortunate.”
Tretter apparently was injured in the first quarter, but the medical staff cleared him to stay in. He played 45 snaps in the first six series before giving way to Linsley.
When the knee acted up at halftime, the Packers re-examined Tretter and put him on crutches.
“He played on it for a whole half,” said Linsley. “I found out this morning that something was wrong. You hear that news, it's kind of shocking that he was hurt at all.”
After deciding not to re-sign Evan Dietrich-Smith in unrestricted free agency, the Packers installed Tretter as the starting center. The decision reflected their confidence in Tretter, who didn't take a snap as a rookie and was a left tackle and tight end at Cornell.
McCarthy did just about everything to prepare Tretter for the assignment. No one else had been at center when the No. 1 offense and Aaron Rodgers were on the field.
Tretter's performance had drawn raves from inside and outside the locker room.
“It's incredible to think it's a position he never played before,” one scout said. “He's played like a veteran. He can bend. He's quick to wall off. He has been superb.”
Other than the fact that Tretter played in the Ivy League and Linsley played in the Big Ten, there is little to differentiate them.
“JC is an extremely intelligent guy,” said Linsley. “He has an extremely bright future ahead of him.”
The 23-year-old Linsley, who is five months older than Tretter, will be embedding himself with the other four starters in an attempt to become familiar with their pre-snap checks by the Sept. 4 opener in Seattle.
“Knowing the plays, he knows that for the most part,” guard Josh Sitton said. “There's just some little things the first group does that we'll have to get him up to speed on.
“Physically, he's ready to play. Very physical. Knows how to recover well. Very strong. I've seen him pancake two guys in one play.”
One scout said Linsley clearly was the Packers' sixth-best offensive lineman ahead of guard Lane Taylor and tackle Derek Sherrod.
“Do I expect a dropoff?” said tackle David Bahktiari. “No, but I've still got to see, though. I have complete and utter confidence in him. He's a mauler. I'm impressed with what he can do.”
As a rookie Bakhtiari was thrust into the lineup in mid-August when tackle Bryan Bulaga blew out his left knee.
Linsley, from Boardman, Ohio, started every game the past two seasons when the Buckeyes went 24-2. He knows loud stadiums and big games.
“In terms of strength and everything, I feel I'm able to match up,” he said. “It's definitely the mental side of the game that I've been slacking on.
“There's no room for nonsense any more and ridiculous mistakes. (Missed assignments) are out of the question. The urgency level is just through the roof.
“I've got to get in the film room and I've got to know what defense they're running. That's on me. It's the NFL now. I'm a young man and I've got to do that.
“If I know what I'm doing, what do I have to be anxious about?”
The Packers were expected to keep no more than eight offensive linemen, which they've done the past three years. The problem is that Garth Gerhart, the only other center on the roster, probably isn't accomplished enough to keep.
On Sunday, guards T.J. Lang and Sitton actually took a snap or two with the No. 1 offense behind Linsley.
“I think you've got two of the best guards in the league, you probably want to leave them at guard,” said Sitton. “Unless you have to move a guy.”
Last season, the Packers didn't sign another center after backup Greg Van Roten was lost Sept. 30 with a foot injury. When Dietrich-Smith couldn't play an entire game, at least two changes in the line had to be made and the offense fell apart against the Eagles and Lions.
Van Roten would be ideal but he is still on the Seahawks' 90-man roster.
Infamous Richie Incognito, who has started at both guard and center since 2006 for St. Louis, Buffalo and Miami, remains on the street. So are former Bengals center Kyle Cook and former Giants center David Baas, but injuries might have ended their careers.
Unsigned Jim Cordle started seven games last year in relief of Baas, including the Green Bay contest. On Sunday, the Bears cut veteran center-guard Dylan Gandy.
Yet, if Tretter can return on the short end of his agent's forecast, would the Packers be better served gambling on Linsley's durability and keeping an extra player somewhere else?
For now, the Packers are preparing Linsley.
“I like his makeup,” said McCarthy. “He's going to do a heck of a job.”