Tretter had taken every rep with the No. 1 offense, starting from the first organized team activity to Friday night’s preseason game against Oakland. Even when Tretter struggled at the start of training camp, the Packers never wavered. Corey Linsley, the fifth-round pick from Ohio State whose collegiate resume had two things Tretter’s lacked – game experience at center and experience against top-tier competition – was never a consideration.
That faith was rewarded. Tretter, who had been joined at the hip by standout guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang on the path to the starting lineup, turned in three strong preseason performances. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went so far as to call it “disrespectful” when asked if he had been surprised by Tretter’s rapid rise.
With Tretter sustaining what coach Mike McCarthy called a “significant knee injury” against the Raiders that likely will keep him sidelined for at least the first several weeks of the season, months of hard work and thousands of snaps with the first-team offense have gone down the drain.
“I told J.C. this morning, ‘Right when I got real comfortable with you, now you’re gone,’” Sitton, the team’s Pro Bowl left guard said. “It sucks, it’s unfortunate, but we’re used to working with a bunch of guys, so it’s something you’ve got to roll with.”
There’s not much time to get on a roll. Green Bay’s offseason program began on April 22, meaning the team had four months, four weeks of offseason practices, 17 training camp practices and three preseason games to get Tretter ready for Week 1 at Seattle. Linsley’s 11-day crash course started on Sunday. The handful of remaining practices will be vital, considering Rodgers probably won’t play against the Chiefs on Thursday and the rest of the No. 1 offense will play sparingly, if at all, with the opener at Seattle the following Thursday.
“The urgency level is just through the roof,” Linsley said. “I’ve been working hard but it’s a different animal out there with the ones. I’ve got to fill in at the highest level. There’s no room for nonsense anymore and ridiculous mistakes. M.A.s (missed assignments) are out of the question anymore, and the urgency level is hyped and I’m prepared for it.”
Where Tretter had an insurmountable advantage over Linsley was his intimate knowledge of the scheme, calls and adjustments. With a year in the system, Tretter knew the offense inside-out and upside-down. Linsley doesn’t have that knowledge to his credit. Now, he knows he’s going to have to work harder than ever so as not to slow down an established, up-tempo offense.
“I’ve got to get in the film room, I’ve got to know what defense they’re running,” Linsley said. “That’s on me, that’s a simple fact of the matter. It’s not really on them at all to get me better. It’s the NFL now. I’m a young man, and I’ve got to do that.”
Working in Linsley’s favor is the veteran core of Sitton, Lang and Rodgers. With their experience and intelligence, they are confident they can get Linsley through any mental growing pains. Having Sitton next to David Bakhtiari when Bakhtiari was thrown into the fire at left tackle last year was key in his rookie success. Linsley didn’t have a veteran to lean on while working with the No. 2 offense all summer.
“He’s been playing next to a bunch of other rookies himself, guys that are slowly coming along, as well,” Lang said when relayed Linsley’s comments about making too many mental mistakes. “He’s got a lot of resources right around him with Josh and Aaron and myself. He’s a guy that we’re not going to put too much pressure on. We get to the line, and Josh and I make a lot of calls as it is, anyway. Any time he’s going to be stuck, if he makes the wrong call, we can correct him a split-second later, so it’s not going to be a problem. Corey’s a guy who’s shown physically that he’s capable of doing the job. It’s about making sure mentally that he’s sharp.”
And, as Sitton put it, “not freak(ing) out.”
“Physically, he’s gifted,” Sitton said. “He’s a strong kid and he can push people around. He has a knack for the game. We saw that the first day we put the pads on. He did a few things that looked good to me. Physically, he’s definitely ready for it. We’ve just got to get him 100 percent there mentally, which we’ll see this week if he’s ready.”
Getting him “100 percent there mentally” will be a team effort. It’s about teaching him the communication and the finer points of the offense while building up his confidence.
“We’ll definitely spend some extra time,” Lang said. “The timing kind of sucks just because it’s so late in training camp that we haven’t had a whole lot of reps together. This week, especially the fourth preseason game, I think history shows the starters won’t play a whole lot. It’s going to be extra stuff we’re going to have to do on the practice field and meeting rooms, making sure we’re trying to build chemistry in other ways outside of actually playing games together, because we won’t have that opportunity for probably another week and a half. It’s just going to take a little extra work by everybody to make sure that he’s 100 percent comfortable going out there.”
Quarterback Matt Flynn, who has worked with Linsley on protection adjustments and other mental parts of the game, said he’s been as impressed mentally as physically with the former Ohio State powerhouse.
Now, it’s up to Linsley to put it together in a hurry with the powerhouse Seahawks defense on the horizon.
“I feel that I’ve been able to handle myself physically,” Linsley said. “It’s definitely the mental side of the game that I’ve been slacking on and that I need to improve on. It’s just the subtleties. The outside zone step as opposed to the inside zone step, the differences between the aiming point are very subtle, but they make a difference. That’s what I’ve got to work on.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.