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Cross Your Fingers Dietrich-Smith Doesn't Get Hurt, Dissecting the Backup Center Plan

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Cross Your Fingers Dietrich-Smith Doesn't Get Hurt, Dissecting the Backup Center Plan

Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Photo by Corey Behnke of CheeseheadTV.com.

Following Tuesday's news that rookie offensive lineman J.C. Tretter had broken his ankle during a recent Packers OTA practice, a scary thought entered my mind: What if it was Evan Dietrich-Smith that suffered a freak injury?

A lot of offseason attention has focused upon the restructured offensive line with Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton moving over to the left side, but an injury to "EDS" could weak real havoc in the trenches if such a situation were to occur.

There had been speculation that Tretter might be converted from college left tackle to NFL center. Even Tretter himself acknowledged that most pro football personnel types see him as an interior offensive lineman.

But now that Tretter is injured, those plans will be on hold for several months, if they come to fruition at all.

The Packers may regret not taking Alabama center Barrett Jones or USC's Khaled Holmes in the fourth round when they had the opportunity, but that's hindsight. All they can do now is move forward and make contingency plans.

The backup center situation is as shaky as it's been in years for years in Green Bay, and that's not exactly a good thing at a position that delivers the football and protects the highest-paid player in the NFL every single snap of the game.

For the past two seasons, Evan Dietrich-Smith has backed up Jeff Saturday in 2012 and Scott Wells before that. Jason Spitz was Wells' understudy basically dating back to when Rodgers took over the starting quarterback job in Green Bay.

As for now, the plan at backup center isn't so cut and dried. But the Packers need to figure it out, stat. There's a roster spot at stake.

Not only will the Packers carry a backup center on their 53-man roster, that player also has to be active on game days as part of the 46-man active roster just in case anything were to happen to Dietrich-Smith.

The Packers began to train Greg Van Roten as a center last season, in a situation that bears a striking similarity to that of Tretter. Van Roten was an Ivy League left tackle at Penn and never played center until getting to the NFL.

After coming to Green Bay as an undrafted free agent last season, Van Roten was originally signed to the team's practice squad after the final cutdown at the end of training camp. When injuries struck, however, he was called up to the 53-man roster at midseason.

Van Roten saw playing time primarily on special teams and occasionally as an extra tight end in the team's jumbo packages in 2012, but they never needed him at center with both Dietrich-Smith and Saturday in the fold.

The reality is, Van Roten still hasn't taken a single snap at center in so much as a preseason game. In the unfortunate and hypothetical situation that "EDS" were to get hurt, it would be a major risk for the Packers to rely upon Van Roten over the course of a 16-game season.

In addition to Van Roten, the Packers currently have two true centers on their offseason roster, but each of them are inexperienced and considered longshots to make the team.

Garth Gerhart was signed to the team's practice squad late last season and later offered a futures contract after the season was over.

Then following the NFL Draft in April, the Packers added another undrafted free agent, Patrick Lewis of Texas A&M, who is an intriguing candidate after serving as the center first for Ryan Tannehill and then Johnny Manziel each of the past two college seasons.

But again, whether either of those players is ready for primetime is uncertain. The Packers might be happy to stash them on the practice squad or even as an eighth or ninth offensive lineman on the 53-man roster, but they're probably not yet ready for the rigors of the week-in, week-out 16-game season.

T.J. Lang has practiced from time to time as an emergency center, but his experience at the position consists of nothing more than a few practice snaps. Entering his fifth season in the NFL, it might be a little late to get Lang comfortable at the position.

All this uncertainty actually sets up well for Dietrich-Smith and his long-term future with the Packers. He entered the 2013 season as an undrafted free agent and signed his one-year tender offer worth approximately $1.3 million.

Following the 2013 season, Dietrich-Smith is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but unless some other center steps up in a big, big way, it would be dangerous for the Packers to allow "EDS" to test the open market.

For the time being, the Packers might want to avoid doing any fumble recovery drills with Dietrich-Smith.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (59) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

packsmack25's picture

Gotta think they had more up their sleeve than just EDS/Tretter. Maybe they'll have an open Center competition like the Right Tackle competition.

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

It is almost certain that EDS will miss some time during the course of the season to the extent that he is the best (i.e. most experienced) backup at guard. In other words, we’ll have either Van Roten, Gerhart, Lewis or any potential futur signed free agent at center in 2013.

TT never drafts center since he considers the zone blocking scheme as being too athletics for college interior linemen. 2013 may point the limits of this reasoning… We’ll see. I like Lewis though.

Evan's picture

So you're saying if Lang or Sitton were to get hurt at some point, they'd move EDS over to guard and put it an untested center?

I highly doubt that.

Evan's picture

I think/hope the days of reshuffling the o-line like that are over.

It never made any sense to weaken two spots on the line like that.

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

I totally agree with these points... I just suspect the move based on the o-line shuffles of the last 4 years...

lebowski's picture

Just once I'd like to feel good about our offensive line.

redlights's picture

Yeah, but last year GB had 5 starting caliber WR's; now with "only" 3, some are panicking (sp?); most teams would kill for our Jones, Nelson and Cobb. In GB, worry is the word.

So if there were 8 starting caliber Olinemen; others would want 11. TT will roll with what he has.

Evan's picture

"Yeah, but last year GB had 5 starting caliber WR’s"

I'd say 4. Driver doesn't count.

redlights's picture

Driver would have been WR2 on 6-10 teams. He's not the old Donald, but if GB would have cut him, he would have resigned somewhere else for vet minimum, easy.

Stroh's picture

Not a chance. Apparently, you didn't notice that even when Jennings and Nelson were out he couldn't get on the field regularly. Driver shouldn't have been on the roster last year and the only reason he was had to do w/ him winning Dancing. He was finished.

Evan's picture

I imagine Lewis now has the inside track to make the team as a backup interior linemen.

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

I am almost certain he will... The more I read over his profile, the more I think he could have been drafted (or at least be listed much more higher by scouts).

He is a jack of all trades.

ArodMoney's picture

OMG I'm dying...

"The more I read over his profile"

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

Lol Thanks for this priceless contribution... it is always comforting to see people who have constructive opinions ;-)

246 toothpicks's picture

I said it before when they signed him as an udfa. Patrick Lewis is going to be the long term starting C on this team. And be a darn good one at that. I think this kid is going to be really good. jmo. We shall see.

Mojo's picture

I think in addition to Van Roten(if he's on the squad), they would consider Lang or Barclay. Outside of the center-to-QB snap, I wouldn't be worried if either one of those two filled in.

Jamie's picture

I guarantee you the Packers don't look at something that they didn't do a month ago with any kind of regret.

They're too competent and confident to chase the what ifs.

Lucky953's picture

+1

California Cheesehead's picture

Question for y'all that know far more than me on this: Can anyone explain why or why not in regards to Goode playing some center on offense, not just special teams? I imagine you wouldn't want to risk injury to your long-snapper, but what else?

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

Long snappers do not (are not able to) make calls on the line...

California Cheesehead's picture

Thanks, guys.

Jamie's picture

There are a number of obvious reasons, but mostly because he weighs about 265 lbs.

lebowski's picture

I didn't even think he was that heavy.

Jamie's picture

You may be right...he's listed at 255, but I thought they may be under listing him so I added 10 lbs to be safe.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I really question how much they were counting on Tretter as a center for this year. Has anyone from the team actually said this? From everything I have seen everyone has 'speculated' that Tretter would be a center and in a battle with EDS. Which I think he might be in the future, but I don't think he was in real competition this year to be the center.

From listening to McCarthy's comments last year on the center position he has stated that its not a position that a rookie can come into and start...

That being said, if EDS goes down, they will be hurting, and I am guessing that GVR will most likely be the guy to start. I think if he makes the most sense just with his ability to learn the offense last year.

Evan's picture

Yeah, no one is saying Tretter was going to be the starting center this year. But many expected him to be the primary backup and that's where his injury really hurts - interior line depth.

Afrenchpackerfan's picture

It also deeply delays his development which is going to be very long considering that he is VERY raw both physically and technically...

RC Packer Fan's picture

I have seen some reports and heard people thinking that he would actually compete with EDS this year.
I didn't see that...

I completely agree it does hurt the depth.
I will say though, I like their depth overall better this year then last year though.

Assuming the starting lineup is Bulaga,Sitton,EDS,Lang,Newhouse (just a guess). You have Barclay with a years worth of experience, GVR going into year 2, Datko with a year of seasoning and getting healthy, Baktiari who some think could end up being the starting RT. And they might have Sherrod, but I'm not counting on him. I have also heard some say that they thought Barclay, Datko, and Baktiari could play guard.

I still think they have enough depth, and you know one of the undrafted free agents will make a push to get on the roster...

Tommy boy's picture

They were grooming Van Roten at center as soon as he was called up last year. No way do they start a rookie because the line calls are too complicated. Takes a year to adjust to that position. GVR comes back at 315lbs and serves as backup at OTA's tells you what position he will play. can also fill in at guard. Wouldn't be surprised to see Barkley taking snaps. No way do they switch the guards to fill in at center, they can help an inexperienced center. Having Lacy in backfield will be a huge help to the O Line, he can block and we will need him to do so with all the changes.

Lars's picture

Good grief, Brian. How many stories is this now on the Packers' "failure" to draft a center? Four? Van Roten is obviously the back-up center and Mccarthy has stated on numerous occasions Lang practices there, as well.

It's a shame Tretter got injured (a severe injury) on such a foolish drill in OTA's but there it is. He wasn't going to play center this year, anyway.

packsmack25's picture

I'm sure he'll gladly refund you if you're upset with the content here.

Bearmeat's picture

Tretter's injury hurts his development for next year. If EDS goes down we were in trouble anyway.

Van Routen is the backup. In the event that he doesn't produce, I'm sure TT would find a vet on the street or pursue a trade.

Sucks long term. But there are worse things.

cow42's picture

There is not a single "sure thing" player on the entire OL.

The answer to all of the final questions may end up being answered positively... but they are legitimate, none the less...

Can Bulaga play LT
Will Sitton be as effective on the left side as he was on the right?
Is EDS a starter?
Can Lang play on the right side?
Who the hell is going to play RT?

Having a lot of players doesn't necessarily mean they have depth.
How confident would you actually be if any of the following players have to actually play in a game?

Van Roten
Datko
Sherrod
Newhouse
Bakhtiari

I plan on saying a prayer for #12's safety before every SNAP.

Nerd's picture

Bulaga has played LT successfully for the Packers before. The only question on him is the hip, and that appears fine.

Switching the Gs is no big deal.

EDS is not a starter, imo. Patrick Lewis might be, though. Still haven't seen what Van Roten can do.

At RT, Newhouse, Datko and Baktieri will compete for the position. We'll be fine here.

RC Packer Fan's picture

When has Bulaga played LT for the Packers? He played for the Hawkeye's but I don't remember him playing LT for the Packers.

I think he can play LT and will be an upgrade over Newhouse. And overall isn't that what we are looking for.

I believe swapping the guards will be fine. It will make Bulaga more comfortable having Sitton next to him. And Lang is the most versatile lineman they have. They will be fine.

I believe EDS is the starting Center and he helped solidify the line when he went in for Saturday late in the season. if you noticed Lang played a lot better after EDS played. I believe EDS will prove himself this year. And that is coming from me, who absolutely hated EDS prior to him becoming the starting center.

I agree on RT. One of those 3 will win the job, and I feel the competition will be the best thing. A sleeper for me is Andrew Datko. keep an eye on him...

Cow, I agree that their depth is lacking experience. But how many years now, have no names made the roster and made an impact? Last year at this time no one knew that Don Barclay would have been the starting RT at the end of the year.

Jake's picture

2010 vs the Bills. Cliffy got hurt, Bulaga stepped in and played LT. And played very well. He has played it for us before.

Al Katraz's picture

Sure I feel for this guy and the coaching staff. Now you basically don't know what you drafted. Its like a wrapped Christmas present you can't open until Summer to see what's inside and whether the wait was worth it.

Nerd's picture

I like Patrick Lewis. He might beat out EDS to start.

Van Roten and Barclay are the backup Gs. Van Roten can compete at C too.

246 toothpicks's picture

I concur. Like him a lot.

PackerBacker's picture

Sorry Nerd, I respect your opinion, but there is no way that an UDFA rookie beats out EDS for the starting center spot in 2013. Won't happen.
If for no other reason than that they'll have EDS running most of the center practice snaps because he's needs them most.

Nononsense's picture

"I plan on saying a prayer for #12?s safety before every SNAP."

More melodrama huh, whats new. Newhouse has started for 2 seasons at LT and Rodgers survived just fine. Yeah 51 sacks is a lot but realistically Rodgers himself was responsible for as many sacks as Newhouse was.

Your right the OL is full of ?s and im not at all confident that the guys listed can play when called upon but you can't know untol they play.

Moving Bulaga to LT, Sitton to LG Lang to RG and open comp at RT is a good move in my mind but only if MM is flexable enough to switch them back when its clear that their less effective in their new position. Thats why it was strange to hear him call the move permanent without seeing any of the results. We shall see about that.

TJ Lang has played every position besides center in a game and done a decent job, so why would him playing center in a pinch all of a sudden make you pray or cross your fingers for Rodgers health.

I guess I get that doom and gloom sells better than sunshine and evokes more response. In that sense maybe you guys should put Cow42 on the payroll because hes/shes as doom and gloom as one gets.

cow42's picture

all i'm saying is there are legitimate questions to be asked regarding the effectiveness of each and every starting OL position.

it would be nice if there was at least 1 known quantity to hang our hat on.

but i suppose - everything could end up working out just fine... although i would say that it's more likely that everything won't.

Nononsense's picture

My point is you can't know until you try these guys at different positions how good or bad they will be. Bulaga was drafted to be our LT, played LT in college but has not played there in the NFL yet. Sitton while a Right side guy his entire career showed he could handle LG in the probowl although thats basically a glorified practice. Lang has played everywhere else so why not RG and some Center if he has to.

Datko has ability and is 100% healthy so what the fear in seeing what hes got? You can't play or coach this game scared, thats all I know. If Rodgers isn't afraid to line up with these guys, why would you be scared for him.

Fish . Crane's picture

i doubt there will be regrets w/ drafting Franklin regardless of what happens at center

antonio's picture

I wouldn't like to be in Aaron Rodger's shoes... He's the best QB in all of football and he has the worst OL in front of him... he will get smashed and hurt next year.

scottym's picture

If we are worrying about backup center, I think we are in pretty good shape as a team.

Bearmeat's picture

^yes^

DraftHobbyist's picture

I know many people don't like Tretter, but I don't think it makes sense to say that the Packers might regret not taking a pure C because Tretter got hurt. He was their C answer. How is that different than if the Packers took a pure C in a guy like Barrett Jones and then Jones getting hurt?

Lou's picture

Well's would sure look good in a Packer uniform now assuming his injuries from last year are healed, he was a very under rated player. With the emphasis on the passing game that includes so many shot gun snaps and adjusting calls at the line against two league foes with superior defensive line talent (Lions - Vikings) the author continues to discuss this critical position because it lacks a long time veteran starer with virtually no proven backup behind him. Unless Thompson acquires some veteran backup help this should make any fan nervous. Projecting Tretter or anyone else as raw whether they played center or not before as "the guy behind EDS" is a recipe for failure.

DraftHobbyist's picture

Would you really want to pay Wells $24 million over 4 years with $13 million guaranteed, though? That's what the Rams gave him.

Stroh's picture

Don't know that Wells was very under-rated. He was a Pro Bowler his last year in GB. IMO, the under-rated player is EDS. Been in GB as a backup OG/C for a few years, finally got his shot at his natural position after learning from Wells and probably moreso from Saturday. Now everyone wants to be rid of him before even really being given a chance. Personally, I have no problem w/ the Packers going into the season w/ EDS and Gerhart as the starter and backup.

PackerBacker's picture

+1

G-man's picture

Take a look at the other teams in the league.......they are in the same shape....most don't carry a back up center.

Brooklyn81's picture

Really! No new post in 3 days. Thank God for Jersey Al bcas they always post something

PackerBacker's picture

Really? These guys can't take a few days during the slowest part of the football year without posting?
If you really have an issue with it, you can submit a request for a refund to www.quityourbitching.com. You should receive a response immediately.

Evan's picture

Especially over Memorial Day Weekend...

Brooklyn81's picture

Lmao I really know how to push peoples buttons. I knew if I posted that I would get a response. I love controlling dumbass`

PackersRS's picture

Yes, controlling...

Point Packer's picture

"I love controlling dumbass'"

This coming from a guy that suggested the Packers didn't needed a long-snapper on their roster. Speaking of dumb-asses.

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