PACKERS FOOTBALL FRIDAY: Center Summer Battle

Green Bay Packers management has proven time and time again that the center position is just not something they hold in high regard.  Despite subtle please from QB1, the team just keeps letting effective centers walk out the door.  It definitely has proved correct once.  Former Packers C Scott Wells has not been able to produce up to the level of the contract that he signed with the St. Louis Rams.  Nonetheless since Aaron Rodgers took over, Scott Wells begat Jeff Saturday, who begat Evan Dietrich-Smith who will now become either JC Tretter or Corey Linsley.  That’s a lot of centers.

As much as the QB would like to joke about “butt height” it is a concern when the only other player that touches the ball on every offensive play is different every year.  The center is responsible for the protection calls at the line of scrimmage, as well as communicating with Rodgers.  I can’t imagine it has to be easy to continue changing that position for either the QB or the offensive line.

There might finally be a shift in this thinking.  The packers used the 161st pick on the first true center drafted during the Thompson era on the aforementioned Linsley.  The team used a 4th round pick on Cornell’s Tretter the year before.  Letting those two men “duke it out” may not seem like much of an investment, but I’ve found that a huge investment isn’t really necessary to have an effective center.

The top 6 centers according to Pro Football Focus last season were drafted in the 6th, 2nd, 6th, 1st, and 6th rounds respectively.  Quality players can be found at the position later on in the draft.  The Packers won a Super Bowl in 2010 with a 7th round pick at center and in 1996 their center, Frank Winters was a 10th round selection.  Just because Linsley and Tretter weren’t highly selected doesn’t mean they can’t be highly effective.  The nice thing about these two players is that if one of them is highly effective, the Packers will have at least 3 seasons of continuity at the position.

The contenders:

JC Tretter- Tretter may have been in the NFL for a year before Linsley was selected, but he certainly hasn’t played any more NFL snaps.  Tretter shattered his ankle during a fumble recovery drill last offseason and never saw the field for any preseason or regular season action.  By all accounts Tretter has done his very best to rectify this situation.  He spent the offseason in Green Bay preparing to be the team’s starting center.

At 6’4″ and 307 pounds Tretter is bigger than the centers that the Packers have started in recent memory.  The new bigger, faster, stronger identity of the Green Bay Packers is not lost on this writer.  The thing is, he’s not stronger than Linsley, because I don’t think anyone on the team is stronger than Linsley.  JC Tretter isn’t going to win this battle because he’s physically more imposing that Linsley.  He’s going to win this battle (maybe) because he’s been here longer, and he’s smarter.

Corey Linsely- Linsley was a pleasant draft day surprise for us Packers fans.  Most of the Packers “Draftniks” expected the team to take at least one more versatile offensive lineman.  Someone who could move around and play multiple positions.  After all, besides David Bakhtiari, none of the Packers starters on the offensive line played their current positions in college.  When the Packers took Linsley in the 5th round, even Coach McCarthy was excited that he would get to work with a true center.

Linsley is slightly smaller than Tretter, checking in at a Scott-Wells-like 6’3″ 298.  What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in strength. Linsley is a powerhouse.  His 36 (!) reps at 225 led the combine and his lower body strength has been described as “the ability to squat a small house”.  His ability to create leverage and deal with nose tackles would be ideal for the Packers offense.  Linsley certainly is an interesting prospect.

Prediction: Tretter has been taking all of the first team snaps this offseason.  I honestly like Linsley a little better as a prospect, but I have no reason to currently believe that he’ll be able to overtake Tretter for the job. I think the situation that the Packers are going to end up with on the interior line is one where Don Barclay backs up the two guard spots (as well as RT) and Linsley backs up Tretter.

Derek Sherrod will most likely lose the LT job to incumbent David Bakhtiari which will give the Packers competent depth at each position.  I’ve stated before that the foundation has been laid for an effective offensive line.  This team has struggled on the line (including the Super Bowl season) for the balance of Aaron Rodgers’ career.  The idea that not only could the team have an effective running back, but also an above average offensive line has to be very exciting for Packers fans.  They should also be excited about the future of the center position no matter which player wins the job.

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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