Packers Testing Barclay’s Versatility at Backup Center

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Packers OL Don Barclay is taking snaps at center during training camp.

Remember back when you were a kid playing football with your buddies during recess or in the back yard? The quarterback would draw up a play in the dirt, you’d break the huddle, and everyone would jog up to the line.

Whoever ended up closest to the ball was usually the guy who had to snap it to the quarterback. It was never a sure thing, though. Everyone would kind of glance at each other and hope someone would snap the ball. Eventually the kid nearest the ball would sigh, lumber over, bend down, and flick the ball to the quarterback.

It sounds like the Packers are using a similar method to try and find a backup center to starter Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Greg Van Roten, Garth Gerhart and Patrick Lewis were thought to the be the leading candidates during the offseason. Once training camp started, rookie Lane Taylor and Don Barclay — the starting right tackle at the end of last season — have also been given reps.

The results haven’t been pretty so far for Barclay. Forget the footwork, technique and mental adjustments required when shifting from tackle to center — Barclay is having a hard time simply snapping the ball to the quarterback without injuring innocent bystanders.

On one hand I feel for Barclay. When pressed into duty at right tackle last season, the undrafted kid out of West Virginia showed a lot of promise — especially as a run blocker — and earned a chance to win the starting job this training camp. But instead of focusing all of his attention on getting better at right tackle and becoming a full-fledged NFL starter for a Super Bowl contending team, he’s being tossed into the mix as a backup center.

The Packers offensive line is kind of like my living room. One day my wife wants the couch and end table over here. The next day she changes her mind and wants it over there. If she moves things around enough, eventually she’ll end up liking one of the configurations — at least for a little while.

On the other hand, I feel that Barclay needs to step up. He’s a young player who scrapped to make the team and earn playing time. Part of his value might be his versatility, his ability to perform when Mike McCarthy points at him and says “Barclay! We need you at (insert position on the offensive line) now!”

Perhaps the Packers don’t know for sure yet just how versatile Barclay can be. They want to find out how he does if pressed into center duty or some other position on the line. He might be snapping balls under, over and to the side of Aaron Rodgers now, but let’s see how he looks later in camp. J.C. Tretter was likely the leading candidate to be the Packers backup center this season, but he broke his ankle in OTAs and probably won’t play this season. Barclay was good enough to fill in at right tackle in 2012. Who’s to say he’s not talented enough to also play center?

I get sick of the Packers tinkering with offensive line positions as often as they do. One day a guy like Barclay is a tackle. The next he’s a center. Suddenly he’s also a guard. It sounds like common sense to just tell a lineman to play a certain position and just stick with it, but as we’ve learned over the years, it’s not exactly a bad thing to have versatility among your offensive lineman, either.

It might not be pretty for Barclay at center now, but give it a few weeks. If it’s still not pretty, the Packers can end the experiment and have him focus on being a right tackle. Or maybe a guard. Or maybe backup left tackle. Or maybe center again. Or maybe……

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Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .

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  • Mojo

    If the Packers want Barclay at center, maybe it would be a good idea to let him stay in there after a bad snap instead of pulling him all the time. How is he supposed to learn? If he can actually do it, the Packers can save a roster spot that might end up going to GVR, Garth or Lewis.

  • PatMc

    Lot’s of reps will make a better player. It is good to see 5 or six players fighting for that center backup position.

    As usual MM knows that barclay can play tackle if needed, but does MM really want barclay as the starting RT? He is a better backup (IMHO) at least this year. Use the early part of camp to let him develop some center skills because you never know. After a year of practicing snaps he might be all all pro at that position. The worst case is he learns more about the OL, calls and how the whole line operates. It will make him better in the long run.

  • Batavia Greg

    Absolutely mind-numbing. A center who has trouble snapping the ball. When is TT ever going to bite-the-bullet and draft a true center?

    • aaronqb

      He did. His name is JC Tretter. Unfortunately, he got injured so the Pack has to adjust. That is football.

      • Batavia Greg

        Sorry, but Tretter was a tight end his first two years at Cornell and a left tackle his junior and senior years. I repeat, when is TT ever going to draft a true center? He had the chance two years ago with Ben Jones from Georgia but blew it.

  • Stroh

    If Barclay want to see the field on game day he has 2choices. One is to start and that’s possible tho unlikely. The other as a backup is to be versatile enough to play multiple positions. I suggest Barclay learn a couple other positions or others that can will pass him. He’s got to put up or shut up. Either learn more position or he won’t be on an NFL roster long. Backups don’t have the luxury of being one position specific players.

    • aaronqb

      Put up or shut up? I hadn’t heard that Barclay is complaining about being moved around. I take it as a good sign that MM is comfortable with him at tackle and wants to groom a backup center. Versatility is a good thing.

      • Stroh

        Versatility is a must for Barclay if he wants to be active on game days. Barclay has to be versatile or he is inactive and sits… Hence put up or shut up. Its a figure of speech, not literal in this sense. We’ll see if he proves good enough to play other positions and be active, but make no mistake, if he wants to be active he must be able to play multiple positions.

  • Katsuya

    I don’t get why the coaches are trying him at C instead of G. Watching him play last year, left me thinking, he would excel at the G position.

    • Stroh

      I think OG is easily his best position. Unfortunately it happens to be the Packers deepest OL position. Sitton and Lang are gonna be the starters for another couple years.

      The way I see it they view Barclay as the 6th best OL, and they want him available on game day, but he’s got to be able to play multiple positions if he’s active. So they’re trying to find out what he can do at other positions.

  • steve cheez

    Love the analogy, Adam.