GREEN BAY—Whenever it’s written, JC Tretter’s biography will recall his rookie year as a lost season.
But for now, there’s no overstating the value to Tretter, and perhaps to the 2014 Packers offense, that 2013 wasn’t a total washout.
While it’s true Tretter, a fourth-round pick out of Cornell making the transition from college left tackle to NFL center, did not appear in a game last season, he quietly got his professional feet wet on the Packers’ scout team for the final six weeks of the regular season.
That followed a long and arduous rehab from surgery due to a broken ankle on the first day of OTAs. The injury landed him on the physically unable to perform list until mid-November, when he finally began shaking the rust off.
“He was impressive in the time he was able to practice there down the stretch, going into the playoffs,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “The feedback from his teammates, particularly on defense, (was) how strong his hands are. No one got to see JC in pads until that point.”
Fast forward seven months, and that strong first impression, coupled with Evan Dietrich-Smith’s departure in free agency, has thrust Tretter into front-runner status to start at center for the Packers this season.
The competition with rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley and practice-squad holdover Garth Gerhart will begin in earnest during training camp, but Tretter has taken all the center snaps with the No. 1 offensive line in the OTAs open to reporters over the past three weeks.
McCarthy has mentioned multiple times that Tretter was around the facility practically every day during the offseason, a sure sign he was committed to seizing the chance in front of him.
Now, Tretter is using OTAs and the upcoming minicamp to combine all the studying of the playbook during rehab last year with the strength and conditioning work in the offseason to get himself as ready as possible for what will be his first NFL training camp next month.
“You see stuff so much easier, especially getting out on the field and being able to look at it,” Tretter said of the benefits of OTAs, which are not full-contact. “It’s easy to see in your iPad, ‘OK, that’s the look we’re going against,’ and (then) get out there and actually see bodies moving around. That’s coming. It’s coming pretty quick.”
It helps to line up between a pair of veteran guards in Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, who have a combined 11 seasons under their belts running McCarthy’s offense with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
After all, Tretter is learning a new position, which requires him to make the pre-snap protection calls for the entire line, but that duty has come relatively easy to the sharp Ivy Leaguer.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a huge adjustment, you just have to do it,” Tretter said. “You have to know what you’re doing and just be very vocal and make sure everybody’s on the same page. It’s not a big thing, it’s not more added pressure.
“Obviously, we have Josh and T.J. on either side of me, so we talk things out, we get things where we need and we go from there.”
Where Tretter hopes to go in a short time is from rookie spectator to NFL starter. If he arrives there in 2014, it’ll be due in no small part to an unofficial debut in 2013 that’s worth more than just a footnote.
“Obviously, I didn’t get a lot of time on the field, a lot of it was rehab, but I still think there’s a huge jump to be made and there’s a very high ceiling, a huge potential to reach, which I don’t think I’m close to yet,” Tretter said. “It’s something you keep working at, keep grinding at, until you get there.”