And so it’s been with the Green Bay Packers’ fifth-round rookie center Corey Linsley. Two weeks ago at Chicago, Linsley pancaked his defender but was flagged for holding. It was a terrible call, and Linsley was ticked. So, one play later, he pancaked his man again. He was flagged for holding again, which erased Aaron Rodgers’ incredible touchdown pass to Davante Adams.
The problem on the first holding penalty was Linsley’s overzealous blocking. With running back Eddie Lacy in the clear, Linsley should have let his man loose.
A couple days later, offensive line coach James Campen said Linsley would learn from the mistake and predicted that he’d never do it again.
Last Thursday night against Minnesota, Linsley’s learning curve was put to the test. On Rodgers’ long touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, Linsley was slightly beaten by talented defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Rather than hanging on and being flagged for holding, Linsley let go with a shove that pushed Joseph to the turf. Rodgers moved a couple steps to his left and threw a perfect ball to Nelson.
Seven points for the Packers. One lesson learned for the impressive rookie.
“You’re absolutely right. I knew to let go of the guy,” Linsley said on Friday. “That’s what I thought in my mind, ‘Don’t do what you did in Chicago.’ And I look back, and it was a touchdown. That could have been just what happened in Chicago. That’s learning.”
Campen agreed. In fact, that first holding penalty against the Bears was on Campen’s mind as the touchdown against the Vikings unfolded.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely, because you have to learn to let go, especially when they’re engaged,” Campen said. “There’s a time when you have to drop your hands and run your feet and push. When it started out, you’re sitting there on the sideline saying, ‘Let him go, let him go, let him go. ... OK, good, he let it go.’ That’s a credit to him because he’s learning from his mistakes.”
On his weekly radio show with ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde, Rodgers spoke at length about the touchdown pass. Most of his words were saved for Linsley.
“One thing that often happens in these plays is there’s one big block or an unsung hero,” Rodgers said. “On that play, it was Corey Linsley. Corey had a tough block because it was an over front so he had a one-on-one block with the shade (Joseph). He was able to, as his feet were slightly beat, he was able to let go and not get a holding call on the play, which was really smart on his part, and he kept running his feet. I slid to the left — kind of two hops to the left — to allow Corey to finish his block and get his guy on the ground. As is the case, whether it’s last play of the game with Chicago (in the playoffs), where John (Kuhn) makes an incredible block to keep it open, or just a throw in a game to put us up 14-0, there’s often an unsung hero and it’s always fun to be able to highlight those guys. In this case, it was Corey doing a nice job of keeping his feet moving and running his defender past the play and allowing me to throw from a clean spot. That’s when you get touchdowns.”
On Friday, coach Mike McCarthy hinted strongly that Linsley would remain the starting center, even after J.C. Tretter — who would have started had he not sustained a knee injury in the preseason — is fully healthy.
It was a strong statement. About a month-and-a-half ago, Linsley was nothing more than a backup. Now, he looks like a potential long-term starter because of his ability to learn. He’s learning how to beat different body-types and styles and defensive fronts. He’s learning from his mistakes. He’s learning the system so he’s no longer relying on Rodgers or veteran guards T.J. Lang or Josh Sitton to make pre-snap adjustments.
“I have to earn that guy’s trust.,” Linsley said of Rodgers. “He doesn’t have to earn any of mine. He has mine obviously and he has everyone else’s. Every day we have to do a little something to earn his trust. Just like I have to do with Josh, T.J. and everybody else in the offense.”
Hasn’t he earned that trust?
“I felt like I’ve built up a little bit of trust with everybody,” Linsley said. “T.J. is still correcting me in the walk-throughs. I have to get over that. Still not perfect on everything so I have to get over that with Aaron. Keep working, you know?”