Coming into training camp, it was thought perhaps Nick McDonald might be in the running for the starting position open at left guard along the Packers offensive line. But through a little over one week of practice, he’s been getting a majority of his repetitions at center.
At some point over the course of the exhibition season, McDonald might get a longer look at left guard, but for the moment, he has to learn the nuances of a position he never played in college.
“Being able to snap the ball and step at the same time, that’s probably the biggest thing,” said McDonald on Monday. “And then making the calls, it’s a little different. At center, you’ve got to be focused 100% of the time on the defense and what they’re doing, because you’ve got to be in synch with the quarterbacks.”
With last year’s primary backup, Jason Spitz, having left in free agency for the Jacksonville Jaguars and other centers like Evan Dietrich-Smith and Sampson Genus as of yet unable to crack the second-string offensive line, McDonald is almost guaranteed of making the Packers’ 53-man roster this season.
Because the Packers typically keep only seven or eight offensive linemen active on game days, McDonald is a good bet to be one of them because the Packers need have to a contingency plan should Scott Wells get hurt. And at the same time, he’s going to have to back up at least one––if not both––of the guard positions as well, just because of the numbers game.
Not that McDonald is complaining. He thinks experience at all the interior offensive line positions makes him a versatile player.
“A guy in my position, I’m going to have to know multiple positions,” said McDonald. “And it helps. Being at center, it’s going to help me with guard. Being at guard, it’s going to help me with center, making calls and knowing what the guard is doing.”
According to McDonald, Wells has been open to playing a mentoring role. McDonald said he sits next to Wells in classroom sessions, asks him questions and Wells has been willing to answer.
From McDonald’s viewpoint, he’s doing anything and everything possible to not only earn a job with the Packers but to help the team in any capacity they need.
“I want to make this team, everybody wants a job, and you have to do whatever you can,” said McDonald. “Whatever the coaches tell you to do, whether it’s special teams and moving me around on offense, keeping me around at center, whatever you want me to do. I gotta do it, and I gotta do it 100%.”
McDonald says he entered training camp last season with the same mindset, to win a roster spot and help the team.
This season, he didn’t have the benefit of an offseason program to aid him in his development. It’s a generally held conception that football players make the biggest jump of their professional careers between their first and second year.
McDonald isn’t alone. He’s in the same boat as every other player in the NFL that didn’t have access to coaches and trainers from March through July. He thinks an offseason program would have helped, but he made due regardless circumstances.
“It helps, you start to learn the offense, coming into minicamp and then going into OTAs,” said McDonald. “So it definitely helps, but offseason training, we knew it was going to be a long offseason probably with the lockout, so we knew we had to train.
“I did as much as I can to keep up with it; I looked over old notes, stuff like that, just to keep my mind refreshed. I worked out with another offensive lineman, T.J (Lang)., that helps too, communicating and talk to each other, talk about the offense, stuff like that.”
Starting this week, McDonald can start to show what he’s learned. On Saturday, he and the rest of the Packers will suit up for the first time against players wearing a different color jersey when they travel to Cleveland for the preseason opener.
However his playing time comes, whether it’s at center, guard or blocking for the ball carrier on kickoff returns, just being on the field will suit McDonald fine.