Tretter Feels at Home at Lambeau

J.C. Tretter has been working overtime to give himself a mental edge in the battle at center. Tretter, who missed most of his rookie season due to injury, says he's stronger, faster and smarter than a year ago.

In the battle to be the Green Bay Packers' latest starting center, who has the advantage?

Is it J.C. Tretter, with a year in the system but exactly zero snaps of experience at center?

Or is it Corey Linsley, the rookie fifth-round draft pick who has to learn the system but was an all-conference performer for two years at Ohio State?

Whoever it is, quarterback Aaron Rodgers just wants some stability. Whoever emerges as the starter will be Rodgers' fourth in as many seasons, with Scott Wells from 2008 through 2011, Jeff Saturday in 2012 and Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2013.

"It's a big challenge. It is a big challenge," Rodgers said after Thursday's OTA practice "It's tough. You'd like to play with one guy for an extended period of time. I thought that might be Scott, and then we brought in Jeff, which we knew was a short-term thing and then Evan, again, a guy who made some strides and played really well. Thought that he was going to be the guy of the future but we went in a different direction and we've got to get one of these young guys ready and hopefully we can get a guy who can stick for five or six years. I think as a quarterback you really appreciate when you can have some continuity there and some consistently as far as the same guy being there for multiple years."

Offensive line coach James Campen laughed when jokingly asked who would be his starting center. It was, after all, May 29 — about two months before the start of training camp and more than three months before the season begins at Seattle.

For what it's worth, Tretter lined up with the No. 1 offense, with Gerhart second and Linsley third.

Tretter, a fourth-round pick out of Cornell last year, missed most of his rookie season after breaking an ankle on the first day of organized team activities. He spent most of the season on the physically unable to perform list, though he was elevated to the active roster late in the season to give him several weeks of valuable practice time.

Despite no game reps to learn from, Tretter says he's a better player today than he was a year ago.

"I think I'm stronger and faster than I've ever been," he said. "Now, there hasn't been live bullets for a while — even doing scout team at midseason, you're not going full-go. Now, it's getting used to going full speed and everything like that. I think I'm a much better athlete. ... I have much more muscle and much less fat.

Tretter has basically set up a cot at Lambeau Field. Coach Mike McCarthy said he thought he'd seen Tretter every day starting in February. Tretter said that was "pretty close" to being accurate, other than a quick trip back home to see his family. Otherwise, Lambeau Field has become his "second home," he said.

"We weren't allowed to meet with coaches (before the offseason program began April 22) or anything like that because of the rules, and we weren't allowed to have an iPad (playbook), so a lot of it was notes you had taken last year and stuff you had around your house. I tried to have as much of that ready, knowing during the offseason that I wasn't going to have any of the materials I had during the season."

That study time — not to mention that Ivy League education — is evident, Campen said.

"The thing with him is he's very smart," Campen said. "He's got good leadership ability, a hustler, works extremely hard. He's got very good balance and he's a big, strong guy. He's a bigger man and his work ethic is outstanding."

For Tretter, who arrived at Cornell as a tight end before moving to left tackle, the challenge will be learning how to play the position.

"With fundamentals and those type of things, he needs to pick those things up," Campen said. "Each day is a new experience for him and he needs to grow from that standpoint. As far as the mental part of it, he's fine."

Of course, nothing is going to be settled in these no-pads practices of May and June. Not until August, when the pads are on and the competition is heightened and there will be players with a different logo on the helmet, will the starter emerge between the 23-year-old Tretter and the 22-year-old Linsley.

"It's about getting on the same page with the protection stuff, it's how I like the snaps in the shotgun, and how I like the rhythm of our offense," Rodgers said. Those guys are smart guys. J.C.'s been doing a nice job. He's a really bright guy. He gets it from an intelligence standpoint. Nothing I don't think is going to be decided there or figured out as far as a rhythm until we get on the field in pads in training camp."


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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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