Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find the entire list here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players, but rather it’s a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
For the fourth consecutive season, Aaron Rodgers will be working with a new starting center. First it was Scott Wells, then Jeff Saturday, then Evan Dietrich-Smith. At the moment, Rodgers isn’t sure who will be next in line, but it should either end up being JC Tretter or Corey Linsley.
Rodgers isn’t exactly pleased about having to adjust to yet another starting center. So whether it’s Tretter or Linsley, that player had better be capable of leading the position for the next several years. If Rodgers had it his way, whoever emerges victorious in this battle would snap him the ball until he’s retired. That is hypothetically possible, too, considering how young Tretter and Linsley are. Plus, it’s not as if Tretter and Linsley are two players that the Packers just picked up off the street; they’re both mid-round draft picks, so Green Bay is invested in them.
Tretter or Linsley — whichever of them wins the job — is No. 14 on this list because the scrutiny level will be high. If Dietrich-Smith had been re-signed, he wouldn’t be so high on this list. Maybe Dietrich-Smith would’ve fallen somewhere in the 20s, because it’s fairly well-established what he would have given the Packers. With Tretter and Linsley, there is a lot unknown. And with the unknown comes the possibility that they don’t get the job done, and if that happens, Green Bay could be in trouble.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
Tretter is playing center for the first time in his career. He came out of college as a tackle/guard combo, so he’s going through the ropes at center for the first time. There’s a lot of responsibility to playing center, but part of the reason the Packers think Tretter can handle it is because of his intelligence and football IQ. Tretter went to Cornell ("ever heard of it" — Andy Bernard), and Ivy League schools don’t turn out football players who can’t figure out the mental side of the game.
Linsley was drafted in the fifth round this year because Green Bay wanted to make sure there was a true center to compete with Tretter. Linsley played the position at Ohio State, a school that faces tough competition every year. That experience could pay off big time for the Packers if Linsley wins the job.
Whether it’s Tretter or Linsley, there will be mistakes. That should be expected going in. Neither of them is going to perform like Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns) or John Sullivan (Minnesota Vikings) this season. But as long as they can do about as well as Dietrich-Smith did last season, that would justify Green Bay’s decision to move in this direction.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT THEM?
Even aside from Tretter and Linsley, the Packers still have other options. Garth Gerhart, who was on the practice squad for the majority of the 2013 season, will be part of the competition. Though he’s unlikely to beat out two draft picks in Tretter and Linsley, Green Bay won’t be able to ignore Gerhart if he’s clearly the top performer in training camp.
Don Barclay is a do-everything offensive lineman. He started at right tackle the past couple seasons, but with Bryan Bulaga back, Barclay slides to the bench. He’s perfect in that role, because if Bulaga, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang or one of the centers goes down, Barclay can step into any of those spots. Barclay struggled at center in training camp during the 2013 training camp, but with more work, he should be able to pick it up.
The Packers would obviously prefer not to move Sitton or Lang from their spots at guard, but if it became absolutely necessary, those two are so talented that it’s reasonable to think they’d quickly adjust and do well.