Rookie Center Could Be Veteran of Interior OL

Corey Linsley relied heavily on veteran guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang earlier in the season. If they're not available, Linsley is ready to run the show. (John Konstantaras/Getty Images)

When thrust into the Week 1 starting lineup, rookie center Corey Linsley leaned heavily on the experience of his right- and left-hand men, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton.

With the status of the Green Bay Packers’ starting guards in doubt due to injuries sustained at New Orleans on Oct. 26, Linsley might be in the odd position of being a rookie and stabilizing force, all at once.

“He has more (experience) than anybody else who would step in there, I would think,” offensive line coach James Campen said on Thursday. “Yeah, I guess he is kind of a veteran, if you will.”

The backups at guard are second-year players Lane Taylor and J.C. Tretter. While they might have seniority in terms of tenure, they certainly don’t based on snap counts and real experience.

According to snap counts at ProFootballFocus.com, Taylor, an undrafted free agent in 2013, has played 99 regular-season snaps in his career. That’s 99 more than Tretter, a fourth-round pick in 2013. Because of a pair of serious injuries, he’s never even put on his jersey and helmet for a regular-season game.

Linsley, on the other hand, has played every snap during an impressive rookie season. Eight games into his career, he’s practically a grizzled veteran. At least in comparison to his possible sidekicks.

Coach Mike McCarthy described the center, guards and quarterback as “the core of our offense from a communication” standpoint. Linsley has made enormous strides mentally and is ready for the training wheels to come off.

“Oh, yeah, he’s ready, man,” Lang said. “I think looking back to our first couple games, him getting an understanding of how the offense is run with Aaron (Rodgers) and the way we communicate up front, I think he picked it up really fast. I can’t even really remember past the first or second game having any communication errors. He’s a guy who’s very smart, can definitely get the job done. Honestly, Josh and I haven’t been helping him all that much — as much as you guys may think. He’s smart. He knows what to do.”

Two-and-a-half months ago, Tretter had locked down the starting position at center. Then he was injured in the third preseason game against Oakland. Tretter wound up going on the NFL’s short-term injury list and, in his absence, Linsley established himself as the center of the present and the future.

If Tretter starts on Sunday night, the challenge can’t be understated. It’s not only that he hasn’t taken a snap in a game since Aug. 22. He practiced for two weeks, with one padded practice in each of those weeks. During those two weeks, he took reps at all five positions. Then came last week’s bye. Only this week has he settled in at guard. So, it’s possible Tretter’s first career NFL game and first career game at guard at any level also will be his first NFL start.

“It’s not like riding a bike, per se, but it’s how fast do I pedal the bike? How low do I go (with) pad level? Those things take a little time,” Campen said. “After today’s work, I feel very confident. Most of it is just getting the reps, getting the pad level down, going full speed and those things. It’s not an assignment thing with him or anything like that. So, he is more ahead of the game than some would be if he didn’t know what the heck we’re doing. But you’ve got to remember, too, it’s not just the team work that you do, it’s all the individual work, too. It’s bang, bang, bang, you’re going. So I think he’s caught up.”

And if not, he’ll have that sage 23-year-old veteran, Linsley, next to him.

“Obviously, having J.C. next to me, if he’s playing guard, is a help,” Linsley said. “He’s extremely intelligent and a hell of an athlete. You know there’s a dropoff. Anybody’s a dropoff to Josh and T.J. We all have to put a little more on yourself.”

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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