Just not for long.
With projected starter J.C. Tretter out for at least the first eight games while on injured reserve-designated for return with a knee injury, Linsley will be the Green Bay Packers’ starting center for the first half of the season.
If he plays like he did at Seattle, Linsley might be the long-term answer at a position that’s been a revolving door since Scott Wells’ heyday.
“Obviously, I have (thought about it), but I can’t think like that,” Linsley said on Monday. “If you think that you’re going to be replaced in eight weeks, then you start to say, ‘Well, this doesn’t even really matter,’ so you play to a lower level. If you think that you aren’t going to be replaced in however many weeks, then you start to get complacent.
“That’s way too far out for me to think about it. It’s useless. I have to prepare every week, regardless. What this really taught me is that every person on this offensive line has to prepare like they’re the starter because at any moment in time … You prepare like you’re the starter and, when you go in there, you act like you are.”
Linsley certainly acted like one against the Seahawks on Thursday night. He also acted like a veteran while facing the hellish crowd noise, not to mention one of the NFL’s top defenses, in general, and one of the game’s more underrated defensive linemen, Brandon Mebane, in particular.
He also handled some pregame taunting.
"I'm going to pray for him," Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said of Linsley a couple days before the game. "It's going to be a long night, man. We've got to just take advantage of it.”
Linsley admittedly was rattled by the comments for a short time. A phone call to his girlfriend helped him get his mind right.
“I texted Josh (Sitton) right afterwards,” Linsley recalled. “I was like, ‘Did you see this crap?’ He was like, ‘No, what?’ I sent him the article. He was like, ‘Oh, man, you need that to get you fired up.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I was all in’, and he helped me with it, too. When I came in the locker room (before the game), everyone knew it. (Offensive line coach James Campen) had it printed out for me. He was like, ‘Do I even need to give you the article?’ I was like, ‘Hell, no, you don’t need to give me the article.’ I’m glad they did that because it got me to not feel comfortable anymore. It got me fired up, so I’m glad he said that.”
Irvin was singing a different tune after the game. While the Seahawks won decisively, it wasn’t because of any deficiencies from Linsley. In fact, with Monday night’s games not factored in, Linsley graded out as the sixth-best center in Week 1, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
“At the time when I first read it, I was sitting in my hotel and it kind of got me aggravated,” Linsley said. “I had just gotten past the anxiety of everything and I felt comfortable and confident going into the game. Then I was like, ‘Man, these guys are after my head. I’m going to have the best defense in the league after my head.’ I had to get over it; it took me a couple hours to get over it. In the game, I didn’t really notice them talk a whole bunch of smack. I didn’t notice that they were really singling me out. I noticed (after the game) that there was a comment where (Irvin) said, ‘My hat’s off to him’ or something. Obviously, I didn’t prove myself totally but I gained a little bit of respect.”
Aside from a public tongue-lashing delivered by Aaron Rodgers at one point in the first half, Linsley’s play impressed everyone associated with the Packers. Rodgers, who had been all-in on Tretter, said Linsley did a “great job” after the game. A day later, coach Mike McCarthy said Linsley “did a lot of good things.” Sitton said he was “pleased with everything” Linsley did in his debut.
“He did very well,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Monday. “He was good with his calls, he was good with his snaps, he blocked well both in the run and the pass. It was a very good debut for him.”
Linsley wasn’t lacking for confidence to begin with, not after being a two-year starter at Ohio State and regularly battling NFL-caliber competition. Considering the opponent and the location, Linsley’s performance only amplified that belief. He said it took him just a couple plays to figure out that he belonged and the competition wasn’t too fast or too big for him to handle.
It’s what the team expected. While he certainly leaned on veteran guards Sitton and T.J. Lang for help mentally, the team didn’t deviate from its approach because it had a rookie center making his NFL debut against the defending champions.
“Yeah, Coach McCarthy I believe said during the week, they didn’t adjust anything for me,” Linsley said. “I’m glad that they didn’t because it’s kind of like a trial-by-fire thing. It pushed me to prepare harder. There was never a talk with me, at least, that Josh and T.J. were going to be making all the calls. They just pushed me all week to be able to make the calls. There was never a time where it was, ‘Look to them,’ as if it were their responsibility. It’s them helping. All in all, I’m glad that they didn’t change the game plan because it showed me that I can handle 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.