GREEN BAY – Playing football is getting more complicated for Matt Rotheram this spring.
But that’s a good thing for the young offensive lineman.
An undrafted rookie a year ago, Rotheram worked mostly at guard and landed on the practice squad following training camp.
As his bid for a roster spot in year two began last month, he was told center would be added to his duties, which has given him a whole lot more to think about and do each day of the offseason program.
It’s not just learning to snap the ball and still reach the linemen he’s assigned to block. That physical adjustment is tough enough, but it’s the mental responsibility that’s the bigger challenge.
The center declares the defensive front for his fellow linemen and makes the blocking and protection calls accordingly, all before the snap. The quarterback might correct him or make an adjustment, but the communication starts with the center.
Throughout four years at Pitt and again last season, Rotheram only had to listen to the center’s call and know what to do. Now, he has to know what to call, and then what to do.
“I’m coming up and looking at a blank slate, and I’m telling everyone else what’s going on, which is a whole lot more difficult,” he said.
“When you’re playing guard, you can memorize things. On a certain pass play, I know these six terms, and when I hear this, this is what I’m doing. Pretty straightforward. At center, there are so many different variables.”
The variety should only benefit him, though. It’s a chance to prove he can do more, and he’s not entirely shocked by the change.
During the pre-draft process in 2015, he recalled some teams working him out specifically at center. He was only a third-string, emergency guy for that role at Pitt, but he’s never dismissed it from his potential future.
Guard would still appear to be the primary spot for a 6-5, 325-pounder, but regardless of how much he shuffles between the two positions this year, Rotheram expects to show more command of the NFL game in general and Green Bay’s offense in particular than he did last year.
“It was so hard as a rookie coming in. We had a couple undrafted guys, no draft picks, so the offense was still moving full speed ahead,” he said. “They’re not waiting around for you. It’s tough to catch up.
“It’s harder to go and play when you don’t really … you know what you’re doing, but you don’t really understand everything. Now that I’m in my second year, I kind of get the bigger picture, and I’m sure it’s going to help me.”
So should five preseason games this summer. While the longer training camp and extra game might make veterans groan, young players fighting for their football futures will silently smile.
“Guys like me, we’re pretty happy about that,” Rotheram said. “It gives us a chance to put a lot of good tape out there. If you’re pretty low on the depth chart, you don’t play too many snaps in preseason. Let’s just say if you only get 16 snaps and you mess up two of them, that looks pretty bad. The more you get to play, the more you get the feel for things.”
It was disappointing at his size, and as a four-year college starter, to go undrafted, but Rotheram said he doesn’t even think about that anymore. It’s ancient history.
The relevant present is that the Packers have two starting guards and the top backup at center all heading into the final years of their contracts. The depth chart could change dramatically in another year, and Rotheram is aiming to stay on it.
“I’m just trying to be pretty fluid across those three middle positions,” he said. “This is one of the deepest offensive lines in the NFL, without a doubt – our starting five, arguably the best five in the entire NFL, and our depth, too. With the two draft picks, the guys we’ve got coming back from last year, we’ve got a lot of people, so I’m just trying to play center, play guard, whatever I’ve got to do.
“I’m just looking for an opportunity.”