Dietrich-Smith Replacing Saturday

Dietrich-Smith (USA Today Sports)

In what could be looked at as a passing of the torch, Evan Dietrich-Smith probably will start his first career game at center on Sunday against Tennessee. Jeff Saturday, who had started the first 14 games, handled the change with class.

The Green Bay Packers will go into Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans with another new-look offensive line.

This time, however, it won't be because of injury.

Evan Dietrich-Smith "probably" will replace Jeff Saturday as the starting center. Saturday is listed as probable with neck and shoulder issues that limited him at Friday's practice after sidelining him on Wednesday and Thursday. The injury, however, isn't the reason for the change, coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday.

"We feel good about his health, but we haven't made a final decision," McCarthy said.

Saturday, who signed a two-year free-agent contract in the offseason to replace veteran Scott Wells, said he was surprised by the timing of the decision but handled the news with class.

"I think it could be (a passing of the torch)," Saturday said. "Obviously, you're giving a guy a chance to start. Obviously, I'm a stop-gap here. There's no surprise as far as that stuff goes. You're 37 years old. I've been around this thing long enough to know that it's not a long future. I think if (Dietrich-Smith) plays well, I wouldn't think they'd go back and make another change. That's how I look at it. I told Dietrich, I fully support him, I have a ton of respect for him as a player and as an athlete. I think he'll do a good job. I told him to make the most of it. We all get our chance somehow. Whenever you do, take advantage of it. When I got my chance, I made the most of mine. I hope he does the same. We're at two totally different points of our career. His is on the up-ramp, mine is on the way out. This is football. It's a business at the end of the day. I think (he) is going to do a great job and give us a good chance to win games."

Dietrich-Smith made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2009, playing in 13 games – including two contests on the offensive line. The Packers thought he might be the center of the future at that point but he didn't make the club in 2010. He was brought back before the Super Bowl run in 2010, then started three games at guard in 2011. This season, he moved into the lineup at left guard when T.J. Lang slid over to right tackle to replace an injured Bryan Bulaga on Nov. 4. Dietrich-Smith started the next four games before going back to the bench last week against Chicago.

Despite a wealth of experience at guard, McCarthy said Dietrich-Smith's best position is center. And now, he'll get a chance to prove he's the long-term solution. Saturday is the 25th-ranked center of the 29 who have taken at least half of their team's snaps, according to research by ProFootballFocus.com. Run blocking, in particular, has been the issue for the player who leads all centers in starts with 211.

"Yeah, it's different," Dietrich-Smith said of the timing, "but they feel this is the best option for them. We're going to go out there and do what we need to do to win football games. This is how they want to go, then this is how we're going to roll with it."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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