Cory’s Corner: Packers are undervaluing the center position

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Frank Winters was Brett Favre's starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.
Frank Winters was Brett Favre’s starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Just how important is the quarterback-center battery in the NFL?

Apparently, it’s not that overly important to the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is about to embark on his fourth different starting center to begin the season.

Think about that for a second.

Rodgers is the best quarterback on the planet. Amazingly, he has been able to average 31 touchdowns a season with a 58-29 record in six seasons. And he’s done it despite playing with a revolving door at the leadership position of the offensive line.

In 16 years with the Packers, Brett Favre had five different centers start the majority of games. But that counts James Campen for one season in 1992 and the person nobody remembers — Grey Ruegamer in 2004.

Favre’s mainstay was Frank Winters. “Bag of Doughnuts” and Favre were teammates for 11 seasons and were able to grow up together and make each other better.

Rodgers hasn’t had that yet. Right when Rodgers and Scott Wells were beginning to form a cohesive bond, the Packers didn’t bring him back after four years of working as the quarterback-center battery and thus, the process started all over again.

The next person to come on down is JC Tretter. Last year’s fourth round draft pick hasn’t started a game in the NFL but the Packers are handing him a shot to ignite one of the most dynamic offenses in the league with each snap.

Centers aren’t exactly a glory position. No kid gazes into the mirror and dreams of one day making a perfect shotgun snap to his quarterback before quickly reasserting himself as a pass blocker. Heck, Tretter was a quarterback, running back and wideout in high school.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.
JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the job of a center should be understated. While left tackles get the money for protecting the quarterback’s blind side, it’s the center that makes the coverage adjustments. A center is the quarterback of the offensive line.

So when Rodgers comes back to camp not knowing much about his next center, he needs to spend time getting to know how things will work. If you’re Rodgers, you don’t want to learn in Week 3 that your center has a problem with a quick snap count or a pronounced loud bark in order to draw a defense offsides.

That extra time Rodgers could spend with a receiving corps that is a little thin on experience once you get past the starters.

Maybe Tretter is the answer the Packers need and he winds up as the next “Box of Bearclaws” but Rodgers cannot be thrilled with the prospect of going into camp and starting over again.

The moment Rodgers proved that he was ready to put his name atop the quarterbacking mantle, I said the biggest need for the Packers is a way to protect him consistently. Not more weapons, just a way to keep him upright and prolong his career.

Rodgers will turn 31 this season and I’m sure he has an understanding of when his career finish line is. It would just be a lot easier to cross it with a guy that understands you without having to say anything.

It may not be sexy, but the center-quarterback chemistry isn’t just important, it’s necessary to keep the chains moving, put the ball in the end zone and ultimately win games.

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Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn

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  • BRinMilwaukee

    If Dietrich-Smith had been better, I’d be a lot more concerned. But he was very average, and I respect that the Packers are forcing themselves to get better at the position. If our O-Line consists of Bahktiari, Lang, Sitton, and Bulaga… EDS would have been the weak link. Let’s see if the Packers can get better at center.

    • Razer

      Totally agree. Both EDS and Scott Wells were very average. It would be nice to have a guy that would make this O-line dangerous in both directions. Tretter will not be a step down. It is a question of how a step up.

  • NYPACKER

    Smith was a “journeyman” whose claim to fame will always be getting stomped on by Suh. Tretter appears bigger, more athletic, and brighter. He is an upgrade.

  • Archie

    Think of Tretter as Bakhtiari2 and you will sleep better. Last year I wasn’t thrilled when we traded out of R3 and acquired two relatively unknown OL in R4. There was still a lot of good talent available in those rounds. Fortunately Bakhtiari proved to be a god-send. I have a hunch Tretter will prove to be a carbon copy. He’s big, athletic, smart and has a great work ethic. Even Campen can’t screw that up. With Tretter, Bulaga and supposedly Sherrod all healthy for 2014, Packer OL looks better thasn it has since TT inherited the best OL in the NFL about a decade ago and immediately dismantled it. Deep at OL. Deep at RB. Those are not statements Packer fans are used to hearing. It seems TT/MM have even recognized their recklessness at the back-up QB position after last season’s debacle. They now plan to keep 3 QBs and a 4th on the practice squad.

    So where is the offense thin? The losses that hurt are at WR and TE. Boykin is a nice young prospect but three WRs is not enough to enter a season with. This draft is loaded with great prospects. Hey, even DeSean Jackson is available. We lost our starting TE and it doesn’t seem like he will be back. Quarless is an OK #2 TE but he is not a guy defenses worry about. Having great WRs and RBs is great but we need a dynamic TE to make it impossible for defenses to shut us down. Is Brandon Bostick that guy? Maybe. He flashed last year before getting injured, and that was with back-up QBs throwing him the ball. Nonetheless, I expect TT to grab one of the top 5 TEs in this draft.

    So there you have it, three new stars for the Pack next year: Tretter; Boykin; and Bostick. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Scott Tolzein make a big step up either.

    Now, if only TT could figure out the defensive side of the puzzle. We all see major needs at DE/OLB, ILB and S. We have four picks in the first three rounds. I think we trade down in R1 to pick up a 5th. We use one of those on a TE. The other 4 go to defense. If TT can hit on at least three of those 4 picks and get mileage out of Peppers and improvement from Jones, Raji, Worthy, Neal and Perry, maybe the defense can at least be middle of the road. With AROD & Co., an average defense could be enough to make us a contender in 2014. So let’s hope TT reverses a 10 year drought and hits on multiple defensive picks in this draft.

    • JH9

      I think we’ll see TT draft a TE this year. I expect he’ll do that with the second pick in the 3rd round. Either Troy Niklas or C.J. Fiedorowicz should be available.

      • Ed Schoenfeld

        Thompson will trade down only if he can find a trade partner to do that with and if a player he thinks is worth the 21st pick hasn’t fallen to 21. It’s a deep draft, so he may also make a move up in the 4th — getting to around pick 110-115 may add a lot of value, too.

        Boykin is more than a prospect, after last season he is a proven back up with a little more upside. He will be perfectly fine as a #3 or #4. They also have three strong WR prospects in Myles White, Chris Harper and Dorsey — that’s two draft choices and a ‘work hard’ UDFA type. Yes they should draft another prospect but it doesn’t have to be on Day 1 or 2.

        The comment about 4 QBs was made pertaining to training camp, not the regular season. I don’t see room for that many QBs in the regular season — if they can keep 3 (presumably Rodgers, Flynn and Tolzien) on the roster they won’t carry one on the PS. That would still be a pretty deep bench with Tolzien as the development guy.

        Thomson has been very successful at free agency this year. Every position group is better and has a roster group good enough right now to play a regular season (after moving Hyde to safety). Any round draft pick will improve that for each position — he isn’t locked in to having to pick a particular position first (its the first time in a few years that is true).

        Those first four picks ideally will include a TE, ILB, and S, but the order doesn’t really matter as long as the player fits the value of the pick.

        Free agency is’t done yet either. There will be opportunities to add depth players where needed even after the draft, but it makes no sense not to let the new guys like Tretter try to win positions in OTAs. If you ‘develop’ players, it would be kind of dumb to bury your prospects as third string on a depth chart.

        • Pete Kliman

          Good pts. However, I would still like to dreft a CB that could play S and be a returner.Made a name for himself by returning a missed FG.Chris Davis made up for his lack of height by jumping 40+ inches.

      • Stroh

        More than likely the Packers will go w Quarless and Bostic at TE this year. Being a draft and develop team, means when you have 2 young guys w/ talent and they appear ready to take a step up in production that you give them that chance. Quarless and Bostic both have shown glimpses of stepping up and they have to be given that chance.

    • In 2008 when Ted Traded out of the 1st round he picked up a extra 2nd and 4th so I sure as hell hope he gets more than a 5th. I know you said “Trades back” but I’d think he gets more than a 5th, depending how far back. I personally hope he stays put. Pryor and Clinton-Dix may be gone and I think Ebron will be gone too. The one that might be there is C.J. Mosley. With the extra comp picks he received this year, (Still can’t believe we got a 5th for Waldo Waldon), Thompson has 9 picks already. It will be a fun draft to watch for the Packers with all the depth in this draft.

      • Ed Schoenfeld

        The 2nd rounder in 2008 replaced the 1st, so ‘trading back for an ‘extra 5th’ this year would mean trading fir a 1st and 5th. Depending on the exact draft position a 1 and 5 is arguably better overall value than a 2nd and 4th.

    • Dobber

      ” Hey, even DeSean Jackson is available.”

      What baggage must be there for Philly, a pass-happy up-tempo team, to cut its best outside threat–9 TDs in 2013? Despite that, they’re saying he’ll net $6-8M per year in a new contract. Do you sign DJax and essentially let one of Cobb or Nelson walk under these circumstances?

      • marpag

        NOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!!!!

    • To whoever has kidnapped Archie and is commenting in his place, please carry on. Just make sure Archie is well cared for while you assume his ALLGBP identity…

    • James

      Raji played well when Jenkins was playing on the team. I think the addition of Peppers will bring up everyone’s play just the same.

  • tim

    EDS isn’t irreplaceable. The pack grabbed him off of the scrap heap – twice. He got his career going by being in the position that tretter is now. Almost by default. No one else was any good. While he was ok, he wasn’t top notch. I think that tretter or someone else can and will be at least ok. Tretter or that someone else could have a big upside too, whereas EDS no longer had that imo.

    • MM seems to love him, said the kid was practicing with the team for the last 7 weeks of the year and is there every morning working. McCarthy thought he’d give EDS a run for his money last year. One thing I read is he’s got a nasty streak. Looking at the Packers schedule he’ll need it. Playing some teams with excellent DL.

  • James David

    I would still draft a center in round 2.

  • Big T

    TT is planning on Saturday to give it another shot. 10 million for 4 weeks.

  • Slim11

    Of the two, Wells was better than EDS. Wells was more athletic having been a wrestler in high school and one or two years in college. I was not happy the Packers let Wells go but, once again, TT made a solid decision.

    Tretter is intriguing but woefully inexperienced. However, if GB pencils him in as the starter, what better situation could he have with Lang and Sitton on either side?

    • Dobber

      Agreed. The core of the OL was good with EDS. If EDS was no better than average, it tells you (1) Sitton and Lang can carry just about anyone, and (2) just how bad Saturday must’ve been in 2012.

  • tim

    I like where the packers are positioned talent-wise. Ed S. is right about where Thompson has positioned this team pre-draft. No real bare areas, extra draft picks coupled with “new” young guys like worthy, Sherrod, tretter and Dorsey arriving. We got new extra picks arriving before the draft even starts. I’m particularly intrigued by Dorsey. I read that he was pretty highly touted with good speed in college as a junior. His offense (with no QB) took a dive his senior year, so he drafted late.

  • Salaries for 2013 from Fox Sports:

    Starting O-Line
    Bak 405,000
    Sit 3,400,000
    EDS 1,323,000 IR Tretter 405,000
    Lng 750,000
    Bar 480,000 IR Bulaga 862,000
    BU Newhouse 1,323,000

    Now lose EDS,Newhouse save 2,646,000

    Very Affordable O-Line

    • Don’t completely understand this. Sure, we all thought Newhouse went from adequate to terrible. Sure, it’s nice to have a cheap OL, but they could dump Matthews and have a bargain LB corps. The point of a lot of previous posts is that EDS was average. Right now, we’ve got nobody that’s demonstrated being even that. The Pack hasn’t forced themselves to get better at center, they’ve forced themselves to try it without much of a Plan B.

  • marpag

    Here’s a link for y’all:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-nfls-highest-paid-positions-2013-10

    Bottom line, according to salary cap numbers, only kickers and punters (who play only a handful of snaps and aren’t actually expected to hit anyone) are valued less than centers.

    Never mind TT, the ENTIRE LEAUGE doesn’t value the center position highly, and there’s a reason for that too.

    Check out the link. It’s pretty dramatic.

    • Stroh

      Its also worthy noting from the chart that Safety is a devalued position, which probably helps explain why Thompson didn’t go after a Safety in FA and didn’t chose to keep EDS. Both positions it should be noted are not devoid of talent. Tretter and Barclay will compete at Center, same w/ Hyde and Richardson at Safety, tho a fairly high draft pick at Safety seems likely.

  • Mojo

    People forget that EDS was basically a novice at center when he took over last year. He played a handful of games the previous year – but that’s it. And he and Rodgers did fine. With practices and training camp, they should be able to get the nuances down. Rodgers is a veteran who should have no problem communicating with Tretter as to what he wants. And I get the feeling Tretter is more than willing and able to comply.

    In sports you sometimes have to take chances to upgrade certain positions. Tretter is bigger and more athletic than EDS. Plus, much cheaper right now. Instead of a so-so o-line they have the potential to move into the top third in this league. So why not go for it?

    Because they didn’t overpay for EDS, they now have more flexibility to resign their own FA’s – who will have a bigger impact on this teams success – or other outside FA’s. You can’t pay everyone.

    Nothing against EDS but I was pleased when the Packers went in this direction. Now if Tretter can get the butt-height and sweating part down.

  • Boyd86

    Been reading these threads for a while & enjoying them for the most part….first comment & will probably get barbecued for it. Being a die hard/life long & taking winning or losing way way too serious for a man my age (according to the wife)I gotta ask a TT talent evaluation question. Came to mind with the question of importance being placed on the C spot. I agree with the EDS and Wells assessments, but I also agree it’s a key OL position that hasn’t been addressed in the draft (Tetter was not a C) via trade or FA. Not my question though. The position that’s been completely misjudged and incorrectly addressed is obviously the S position. Last year at this time a FA wasn’t necessary and utilizing a pick wasn’t either. Burnett was ascending, he gets extended. JM and MD were young and about to take the next step. So we go 0-3. Hey shit happens, right? But because of Hawk, Jones and those not so safe safeties, I could have gotten open over the middle. Fast forward…for some reason MM thinks Burnett will get better if he’s got a better partner back there. I don’t understand the logic. Won’t the opposition avoid the good S and target Burnett? And, right now, it seems we’re counting on Hyde to make that “jump” I like him a lot, but who knows how long it might take if at all. Countdown to 5/8, both Cox and Pryor are gone by 21, TT will go DL or trade down. Couple of others like Buchanon rated pretty high, but can also be gone by the second round. Somewhere between Byrd and Clemons, I would have loved to see a reasonably priced FA added. I generally agree with the philosophy, but the strategy being followed once again for this very key position on defense makes absolutely no sense to me.Fire away!

    • Pat

      Every year it is the same, not making sense until after the draft, OTA’s and UDFA signings. There are only 53 active players spots. TT has a plan that will unfold. Right now I guess he believes that Hyde & Richardson will make the big step up. The draft has about 5 safeties in the first three rounds who will improve the depth at the spot.

      I thought clemons was going to be signed to, but evidently TT has other ideas. Let it all unfold and we will see when the season starts. That’s when things will make sense, like they do every year.

      It doesn’t make sense because we just don’t have all the information that TT has. So don’t sweat it.

      • billabong

        it made sense last year, but in a bad way…sure some of these guys he drafted pan out…or “develop” like they hope…

  • Since ’61

    Boyd – I agree with your comments. Good 1st post. I have never liked the idea of converting a guard or tackle to Center. I would prefer for the Packers to draft a true center and leave him there for the rest of ARs career. I realize that Trettor can workout as the center, but why not have a true center as the starter? As for the other position groups, I don’t think that Safety or ILB are settled or close to settled as some of the other bloggers have mentioned here earlier. Burnett teamed with an inexperienced HYDE could be disastrous. What gives us so much confidence in Hyde? And how much improvement are we expecting from Burnett and why? I would prefer Hyde teamed with a veteran FA safety. Even if we draft a safety there is no immediate help there either. As for ILB, we all know that Hawk ain’t no Nitschke and he is probably reached the point where his play will decline, if that’s even possible. As for Jones, he regressed as the 2013 season went on> I realize he was playing hurt but he basically disappeared. ILB needs some attention during the draft. The safety position remains the biggest weakness on the team followed the ILB group. Keep posting Boyd. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    • Pat

      This might be the year that TT drafts a real Center (kid from Arkansas – maybe). He has the picks.

      I think Boyd had a real good post but we just don’t have TT’s knowledge (or plan).

      ILB, S, TE & C, are needed. A very good ILB will improve the safety play. A TE to replace Finley, there are five or so safeties in first 3 rounds that can help
      this year. The kid from Arkansas could compete for the starting center job day 1.

      There will be some great values at WR in the latter rounds.

    • Dobber

      You’ve hit on something here, ’61, that many of us have been thinking: WHY do we think that Hyde is the answer at safety? Or better than a good rookie who has played S for several years?

      • Pat

        I think Hyde is the first answer because MM says it. Evidently MM believes that Hyde is the “Guy”. I also think there are enough Safeties in the draft in first 4 rounds that one of them will be able to push the talent level as well (by mid-Oct).

        I think Burnett will be improved as last year he had to take on the “D” play calling. He will have Hayward back as well. A better ILB will also help the DB’s.

        Would I have signed a Clemons, YES! But I’m not TT. There are only 53 active spots and evidently TT has a plan he is executing.

      • bobalou13

        They think Hyde can be the answer at safety because he’s a play maker with ball skills who is not fast enough to play corner. Assuming Hayward returns, Hyde will never see the field unless it’s at safety.

  • Anyone remember Eugene Robinson. Wolf picked him up from Seattle and plugged him in beside LeRoy Butler at safety the year the Packers won their third Super Bowl. Robinson was in his thirties and was sort of at the same stage of his career that Peppers is now. After the Super Bowl win, Wolf drafted Sharper, I think in the second round. Robinson said the kid wasn’t ready, and though he went on to have a great career, he wasn’t ready when the Pack cut Robinson and inserted Sharper. Point is, safety may take some experience and to put in a rookie or moving a talented, but inexperienced guy like Hyde into the safety spot may be exercising more hope than solid judgement. Anyway, that is what Packer history would suggest. I think TT is hoping more than planning on this one.

    • Slim11

      This is a very accurate observation. Not only was Robinson released, he was picked up by the Falcons and didn’t do so well even though The Falcons went to SBXXXIII.

      I get the impression GB may be counting on Sean Richardson before Micah Hyde at S. Hyde will be on the field a lot more as MM said earlier. Hyde will see time in nickel and dime packages as well as special teams.

      Richardson seems very willing to mix it up in run support. Hyde will, too. The deciding factor may be who’s willing to take a RB on ala Charles Woodson. Woodson didn’t back off tackling a RB though he did get run over more frequently as he got older.

  • palmda

    I think I am the only person that thinks the packers are going to bring back the same lousy bunch they had on defense last year, with the addition of one ex over the hill bear? I think tt and mm have a over assessment of the talent on defense and they will ride it out with the good old bunch. I can see a 500 season on the horizon.

  • I gather that the logic is that Burnett might be better with a veteran next to him because last year instead of being able to concentrate on executing his own responsibilities, he was looking over his shoulder or shading towards MD’s and/or McMillan’s area of responsibility due to their abysmal level of play. Maybe that is part of the reason Burnett regressed, maybe not. I wonder if TT thinks Clemons can learn Capers’ playbook in one off season & TC? IDK his reputation for that.

    GB moved Lang to Center a couple of years ago in TC because they wanted a bigger, stronger player, but Wells beat him out. Being bigger and stronger does not always mean better, just like drafting the fastest players (See Al Davis in Oakland) doesn’t mean you are getting good players. I hope MM and TT saw enough of Tretter after he came off PUP to be confident in him. Tretter is smart at least. Hmmm, TT saw enough in McMillan that he did not even draft a safety last year in a draft filled with safety talent. If Tretter plays well, great! What if Tretter gets hurt? We’ll see Barclay or the O-line shuffle. The McGlynn guy who recently visited GB started 11 games at G and 3 games at Center due to Satele’s (the starter for Indy) injury. Mike Wells of ESPN thought McGlynn was solid, and many Indy fans thought McGlynn outplayed Satele (not that that is saying too much since Indy released Satele due to his $5.1 Cap # and unimpressive play), but Bill Polian rated McGlynn as a Category D FA, worthy of a vet min contract with no guaranteed money. Still, I would like to see a true center drafted or a passable FA center signed if TT likes one, if only for depth.

    Extending the same logic noted by some of the posters above, we should just be penciling in Sherrod at LOT, since he is (if healthy) bigger, stronger, faster, quicker, and has longer arms than Bakhtiari. I for one still have Bakhtiari as the presumed starter at LT because I have seen him actually do it in the NFL. Sherrod will compete for LT or maybe provide depth. Come to think of it, McMillan I believe had better combine numbers than Hyde. But I like Hyde because I believe he is a “football player”, one with very good instincts and football IQ.

  • Pete Kliman

    Let’s not forget the main reason pass D was so poor was a lack of pass rush. Hyde will be a good safety because he was a successful starter at corner all year,best tackler in backfield,has excellent football instincts,and safety is much easier to play than corner.

  • fatalflaw

    I have to wonder how much the pre-draft misinformation campaign has to do with McCarthy’s insinuations that we’re all set at S by moving Hyde over? Anyways, my vote for n.1 is Kyle Van Noy.

  • James

    A couple of different ways to look at this move with Tretter at center. Excellent job of the blog to point out Tretter’s smarts and versatility at different positions he played, to get to this point. You want a smart Center that knows different positions. He should have a good feel for the Offense. He also played TE and Guard along with Left Tackle at his time at Cornell. I think the Packers know what they got in this player. That’s why they only have one, true Center on the team, in Garth Gerhart, and didn’t try to hard to resign EDS. Gerhart must be the back up then. He was off and on again on the practice squad last season.

    And even then, there are going to be good Centers in the Draft in the middle rounds for the Packers to have at improving the position. That’s not that much of a risk. The Packers can afford one of their current NINE picks to grab one. From the “Draft Breakdown” website video highlights, I prefer Weston Richburg. He’s seems to be the one in this draft group that can snap the ball in the shotgun with out looking between his legs all the time.

    Yeah, I get that Rodger needs time with the chemistry between rotating centers. Still I think the Packers know that Rodgers is skilled enough to deal with the short time to adjust that is needed with every new Center thrown in there. Rodgers didn’t go to an Ivy league college but he is no dummy. Having a center that did, you have a high football IQ combo QB and Center. I think the odds are a little more in favor for success than the other Centers over the last couple of years. If not there are good true centers to pick from this draft that have proven skills to handle the job.

  • bobalou13

    Agree with the gist of most of the comments. EDS was nothing special at all. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who read the article that quoted an NFC scout referring to EDS as, “not really a starter”. You’ll never hear from him again in Tampa.