Linsley Now Center of Attention
by Mike Conklin
August 24, 2014
The Packers will start the 2014 season with different people standing over the football than they originally imagined.
B.J. Raji and JC Tretter were slated to be the players lined up on each side the ball when snapped, but after a relatively injury-free training camp up to this point it now appears the Packers will have to break out the "next man up" mantra in full force.
While Raji is the bigger name and will garner the bigger headlines in national news stories, the Packers entered the offseason with the very real possibility that he would not be on the team this season and had to plan accordingly. Now those plans will be realized, as Raji will soon be undergoing surgery on his torn biceps.
JC Tretter is another story.
The Packers went all in on Tretter when they allowed Evan Dietrich-Smith leave for Tampa Bay last March. Tretter lined up as the starting center throughout the entire offseason program and steadily earned praise and trust from his coaches and teammates alike. During the preseason games Tretter appeared more mobile than Dietrich-Smith had been, and at times demonstrated an ability to get to the second level with relative ease. The offensive line appeared to be on track to be improved, and even the ever-demanding Aaron Rodgers said there was "zero cause for concern" with Tretter in the lineup.
It appears now that Tretter may miss the first quarter of the season, if not more. Corey Linsley will be under the bright lights during one of the tougher portions of the Packers schedule. Can he hold up?
The early returns on the former team captain at Ohio State have been fairly promising. He looks like he belongs. Even so, he never really appeared to threaten Tretter's starting position during training camp. What can the Packers expect from Linsley now that he will be thrown into the fire?
One scout with thirty years of NFL experience thinks Linsley is the real deal. Greg Gabriel is the former Director of College Scouting for the Bears, and also spent time with the Giants, Bills, and Eagles. He now writes for the National Football Post.
"Linsley is one of the better centers I have seen in quite some time," Gabriel wrote prior to the draft. "He should be able to start for most clubs as a rookie."
In retrospect that almost sounds prophetic.
Gabriel wasn't alone in his high opinion of the first team All-Big Ten center that helped his team win 24 consecutive games and shatter team scoring records. Linsley's brute strength is what jumped out to Lance Zierlein.
Zierlein is an NFL analyst and has written for the Houston Chronicle and The Sideline View website. As the son of an offensive line coach who worked for over thirty years in the NFL and college ranks, Zierlein's offensive line rankings grab the attention of many who follow the draft closely.
Zierlein ranked Corey Linsley as a third-round talent. As mentioned previously, much of what jumped out to Zierlein is Linsley's strength. The Youngstown, Ohio native benched more than 500 pounds and was one of the strongest linemen at the combine.
"Linsley is unmatched in this year's draft from a power standpoint at the center position and would overwhelm weaker interior linemen," wrote Zierlein in his pre-draft rankings. "One of the most 'under the radar' center prospects in this draft despite playing at Ohio State, (Linsley is) said to be borderline 'arrogant, but in a good way.' (He has the) mentality that teams want from centers and unusual power from a center."
"Arrogant, but in a good way." Does that sound like a character that just might fit in along with the likes of T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton? Those veteran teammates are going to have to take him under their wings, but so far they've liked what they have seen.
"Physically he's gifted," said Sitton. "He's a strong kid and he can push people around. He has a knack for the game. You saw that the first day we put the pads on. Physically, he's definitely ready for it. We just have to get him 100 percent there mentally."
Mike McCarthy said that he likes Linsley's "make-up" and that he has a good understanding of the offense. The head coach also said that the Packers wouldn't change how they approach the game moving forward.
At the same time, McCarthy admitted that Linsley is obviously a rookie and needs more reps.
Although in reality the preseason doesn't mean much, even an untrained observer could notice that the Packers running game...and the entire first-team offense for that matter...had been looking as explosive as any in recent memory. Linsley now figures to be a key cog in the Packers machine, and they will soon find out whether the rookie is ready for prime time and can keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the fast-paced offense at this early stage in his career.
Said T.J. Lang: "It's not going to be a problem."
Photo Credit: Jim Biever, Packers.com