GREEN BAY – On the surface, Corey Linsley looked like his normal, reliable self during the final 12 games of the 2016 season.
The Packers center shook off an offseason hamstring injury – which forced him to start the year on the physically unable to perform list – to help fortify the offensive line during Green Bay’s run to the NFC Championship Game.
By the end of the year, however, Linsley had a feeling he’d probably require ankle surgery, a notion that was later confirmed after meeting with Dr. Robert Anderson, a renowned foot and ankle specialist in Charlotte.
A consultation and subsequent procedure showed there was a connection between a lingering ankle injury and the hamstring issue that hampered him last summer. He finally had answers.
Although Linsley’s rehab didn’t allow him to be on the field for the start of this week’s organized team activities, the fourth-year veteran is feeling the best he has in nearly two years.
“It feels better than it did all last year and the latter half of the previous year right now,” Linsley said. “That’s reassuring to know I’m already a step ahead of where I was.”
The 2016 season tested Linsley’s patience after a hamstring injury suffered early in the offseason program forced him to miss OTAs and minicamp. When he started to feel healthy again, Linsley then aggravated it during his own training and sat out all of training camp.
Linsley spent the first seven weeks of the year on PUP before being activated in November. He started in his first game back after his replacement, JC Tretter, sustained a knee injury that ultimately forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
The offseason answers have helped put Linsley’s mind at ease and he’s excited about what’s in store for both himself and the offensive line in 2017.
“I would worry about it if it was all from a different cause, but it’s all been related to the problems that I had with my ankle,” Linsley said. “I got that fixed this offseason, so I feel very confident that my ankle’s going to be 100 percent. It already feels really good compared to where it was.”
Linsley stands to play an even larger role on the offensive line in 2017 after the offseason departure of T.J. Lang (Detroit) and Tretter (Cleveland).
The Packers return three others starters – All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga and Lane Taylor – in addition to newly acquired veteran Jahri Evans, backup Don Barclay, and 2016 draft picks Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy.
There’s big shoes to fill with Lang’s departure, but the character of the room gives Linsley confidence the leadership the veteran guard displayed will be absorbed.
“Honestly, the biggest thing that everybody does in the room — it starts with Bryan and it trickles all the way down — is the professionalism,” Linsley said. “Every single guy in the room would rather practice than sit on the sideline every single day. It’s just that kind of attitude that I think has benefitted us since I’ve been here. It shows on the field.”
With Linsley sidelined and Tretter gone, Barclay took snaps at center with the starting offensive line during this week’s OTAs. While most of Barclay’s in-game experience has come at guard and tackle, the center position isn’t foreign to the sixth-year veteran.
Barclay played there all last summer and served as the backup to Tretter during the first half of the 2016 season when Linsley was on PUP.
An undrafted free agent out of West Virginia in 2012, Barclay has played every position on the offensive line in 62 games (24 starts) over his five NFL seasons.
“He was in some really tough spots during his rookie year and came flying through,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “He overcame a bad injury – flying through. I have all the confidence in the world in Donny Barclay. Donny is a pro’s pro. Love him.”
The Packers lost two solid veterans this offseason, but both Campen and Linsley expect the Packers’ offensive line to remain a position of strength this season and beyond.
“When you coach high school football like I did, every two years the whole line is gone,” Campen said. “It just happens. Certainly, we have very good depth right now. There’s good players.
“There’s a lot of guys who are going to rise up and somebody is going to fill those requirements that are needed at each position. I’m confident in those guys in the room right now.”