GREEN BAY—Since taking over at center for the injured JC Tretter late in training camp, rookie Corey Linsley has looked at each week as nothing more than having “a game to win.”
Along the way, he may be winning a permanent starting job.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t come right out and say it on Friday, but he suggested Tretter will have a difficult time taking the center spot back from Linsley when Tretter is healthy enough to play.
“If things keep going the way they’re going,” McCarthy said, “I think we’ll look back on this start as one of most impressive situations that a young player has stepped up and performed in my time here, and we’ve had a lot of young guys step up.”
That’s about as strong an endorsement of Linsley’s first five NFL games as anyone could ask for, and it speaks to what lies ahead for the rookie fifth-round pick from Ohio State. Still, Linsley is declining to get all caught up in that, preferring an uncluttered mind with nothing more than the immediate to occupy it.
That’s how he approached his task from the first day he took snaps with the first offensive unit in late August.
“I looked at it like I’ve got a game to win and I’ve got to do my job,” he said. “Anybody who looks at it as the season, as a 16-week stretch, doesn’t have a very good mindset. It’s a week by week thing. You can’t look ahead to the future, because you’re just going to kill yourself with anxiety.”
Tretter, who is on injured reserve with the designation to return, is eligible to begin practicing next week, and he’s eligible to begin playing in games after the Week 9 bye. Earlier this week, McCarthy did not have an update on when Tretter would be available to practice, only saying he has looked good in his workouts as he rehabs his knee injury. This week, Tretter was on the sidelines watching practice for the first time since the regular season began.
If it becomes a problem to have two capable, healthy centers, it’s a problem the Packers will accept. Linsley’s ascent has been impressive, from not working at all with the No. 1 offensive line through OTAs and training camp until Tretter went down, to starting and running the no-huddle offense in the season opener, to preparing this week for another formidable challenge in the Miami nose guard duo of Randy Starks and Earl Mitchell.
McCarthy said he could tell Linsley belonged from the first day in pads during training camp, referring to him as physically powerful, mentally sharp and coming from a big-time college program. “He had a lot of things going for him,” McCarthy said.
For Linsley, who has repeatedly noted the advice and encouragement he’s received from veteran guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, the moment of arrival was during the much-hyped trip to Seattle.
“Just as the game went on, I felt more comfortable and more comfortable,” he said. “The confidence from my teammates, and Josh and T.J., helped a lot.
“I’m slowly easing off them. T.J. corrected me today in one of our walk-throughs, so it’s still a process. But either way I’m slowly getting off it, and one day hopefully soon I will be completely off their training wheels.”
As expected, Linsley has experienced some ups and downs. While admitting, however, he didn’t play “up to the standard of the Packer offense” in Detroit and Chicago last month, he also showed he can learn.
In the third quarter against the Bears, Linsley was upset about a holding penalty called on him. Two snaps later, he took it out on his opponent, over-aggressively finishing a block and taking the Bears player to the ground. That resulted in another holding call, wiping out Aaron Rodgers’ miraculous 34-yard TD pass to rookie Davante Adams.
Fast forward to last week, and Linsley was engaged in a similar block with a Vikings opponent, only he backed off at the right time to avoid the flag. Rodgers fired a 66-yard TD to Jordy Nelson.
“I knew to let go of the guy,” Linsley said. “That was in my mind, ‘Don’t do what you did in Chicago.’ I look back and it was a touchdown, and it could have been just what happened in Chicago.”
He’s been reminded often the touchdown to Adams might have gone down as one of the most amazing throws of Rodgers’ career.
“Believe me, I know that,” he said, able to chuckle about it now. “I’ve watched it many a time and felt embarrassed many a time.
“I try not to bring it up. Maybe it will just go away and everybody will forget about it.”
If McCarthy is right, no one will be forgetting about Linsley anytime soon.
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 10