18

October

What Happens If Evan Dietrich-Smith Gets Hurt?

Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith

Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith

The injury headlines mostly coming out of Green Bay right now have been dealing with Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, James Jones and of course Randall Cobb.  While all these injuries are serious to the success of the team, one injury that has slipped under the radar a little bit that could have even more disastrous ramifications is that backup interior linemen Greg Van Roten has been placed on injured reserve with a foot injury, ending his season.  The reason why this should be more concerning then most people are realizing is two fold 1) there is no official backup center at the moment (Ourlads still has Van Roten as the backup) and more importantly 2) knowing how the Packers offense, chances are good an injury to starter Evan Dietrich-Smith will result in a lot of linemen playing new positions.  While losing two outside linebackers or two wide receivers is obviously not great, young back up players have a good shot at hiding some of that loss; for instance Jamari Lattimore did a astounding job last week in his first start, Mike Neal and Nick Perry have also done a great job covering for the loss of Clay Matthews and Jarrett Boykin looked to finally get in sync with quarterback Aaron Rodgers near the end of the game. However, losing the starting center for the Packers is like losing the starting center, guard and probably tackle as the entire offensive line will be shuffled as a result.  Considering the fact that the backup center is currently unknown, below are some of the possible offensive line options.

 

Situation: Evan Dietrich-Smith is injured, the Packers offensive line will look like…

 

Option 1: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Barclay (C), Lang (LG), Newhouse (RT) – postion changes: 2

Under the “best man available” strategy that the Packers love to employ, they bring out their 5 best offensive linemen out but probably in the worst position.  Barclay was seriously considered for the center position during the offseason but was pretty much an abject failure with multiple botched snaps and a general uneasiness about the position according to reports.  Newhouse takes Barclay’s place at right tackle, a position he’s never played in the NFL and one where he didn’t look all that comfortable in during preseason games either.  Surprisingly, Barclay has been pretty decent in pass protection this year and is a sizable upgrade in terms of run blocking to Newhouse so overall, it’s a total loss at right tackle.  On the plus side, Newhouse does have the most experience of the backups and probably has the best rapport with Rodgers but he’s never been able to overcome his limited physical abilities to become a really dependable player.  Nevertheless, if Dietrich-Smith was injured this week, I’m guessing this is what the Packers do.

Option 2: Newhouse (LT), Sitton, Bakhtiari (C), Lang (LG), Barclay (RT) – position changes: 2 

During the combine and pro days Bakhtiari apparently tried out at center for several teams and considering his build, he actually fits what the Packers typically like in their centers.  Add to that Bakhtiari has a very level headed and intellectual personality and he could actually be a pretty good center.  Only problem with the idea is that Bakhtiari has never played anything but tackle in college and was basically groomed from the start of the offseason for left tackle once Bryan Bulaga was lost during Family Night.  This scenario also puts Newhouse back at left tackle, his more natural position.  I personally think this is a terrible idea since the downgrade from Bakhtiari to Newhouse is huge added to the fact that there’s no indication that Bakhtiari can actually play or has ever practiced at center.

Option 3: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Lang (C), Taylor (RG), Barclay (RT) – position changes: 2

TJ Lang has joked with Josh Sitton before about who would be the first to be forced to move to center; unfortunately for Lang, the Packers think it would be him as he’s practiced as an emergency center on occasion for the last couple years.  In this case, you maintain the starting tackles, which is perhaps most important but are forced to add am undrafted rookie in Lane Taylor.  The Packers were very high on Taylor, making him their priority undrafted free agent this year but after an up and down preseason, adding him this early would probably be a mistake.  Nevertheless, Taylor was a fantastic run blocker in college and would likely give the Packers their best run blocking unit, which would be very advantageous as the Packers shift towards the run with Cobb and potentially Jones out.

Option 4: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Lang (C), Newhouse (RG), Barclay (RT) – position changes: 2

Again Lang gets the short end of the stick by getting shuffled to center, but the Packers but Newhouse instead of Taylor.  Coming into the draft, many analysts predicted Newhouse would be better suited playing guard than tackle and for the first couple years with the Packers, it wasn’t really apparent what the Packers would ultimately do with Newhouse, who played all over the line save center.  This might actually be the best option as the Packers maintain their starting tackles while getting as switched to guard would likely hide some of Newhouse’s physical limitations and still would allow for the 5 best offensive linemen to be on the field.  Again this all depends on the ability of Lang to play center and Newhouse to play guard effectively, but considering the other options have multiple switches as well this might be the most seamless.

Option 5: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Taylor (C), Lang (RG), Barclay (RT) – position changes: 1

Naturally with Taylor now as the de facto swing interior linemen with Van Roten on IR the Packers must now be practicing him at center.  From a pure physical standpoint, I’ve written before Lane Taylor probably fits the mold of a Packers center more than any of the other candidates which is in his favor.  However, Taylor has never played center in college and never played a snap of center in any of the preseason games.  The second problem with sticking Taylor in at center is if he wasn’t practicing at center to start off and was only focusing on guard, it’s pretty hard to imagine him being able to make the transition that quickly, meaning that the earlier Dietrich-Smith got injured the less realistic this option is.  However, if it’s late enough in the season and Taylor has been given enough reps in practice and can make the transition, this might be the most optimal situation of the options.

Option 6: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Tretter (C), Lang (RG), Barclay (RT) – position changes: 1

This is probably the Packers’ dream scenario; Evan Dietrich-Smith gets injured late enough in the season that Tretter gets off the PUP, does well enough to be elevated to the 53-man roster and is inserted as the Packers center of the future, where a lot of analysts had predicted Tretter to end up after he was drafted.  Unfortunately, there are a ton of problems with this scenario; first off there’s no indication that Tretter is going to be able to come off the PUP and play as most people suggest that the Packers will ultimately redshirt Tretter and send him to the IR.  Secondly, while Tretter was likely selected as the center/swing interior linemen of the future for the Packers, Tretter played tight end and then tackle at Cornell, meaning he actually has no experience at any of the interior line positions.  Finally, after being away from the field for essentially the entire offseason and regular season, it’s unlikely he could catch up schematically to all the protection calls a Packers center have to make.  Still the Packers can dream and in a perfect world this would likely be their choice.

Option 7: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Free agent/trade (C), Lang (RG), Barclay (RT) – position changes: 1

Perhaps the most unlikely scenario, mostly because the center free agent market is bare at the moment and Ted Thompson has always been unwilling to trade picks away for replacement level players.  Of note, Barrett Jones has been inactive for every game for St. Louis, but it’s unlikely that the Rams would be willing to trade away a mid round draft pick so early (then again, that’s starting to change).  Perhaps the biggest problem is that Jones would have zero experience with the Packers offense and no rapport with Aaron Rodgers, which is huge considering how much responsibility the center has and how much communication occurs between the center and quarterback in the Packers offense.  Another candidate would be Patrick Lewis, who spent the offseason with the Packers coming in as a undrafted rookie free agent from Texas A&M; however while Lewis played center for the Aggies, he saw most of his time at guard for the Packers and again was beat out by Lane Taylor as a backup guard.  Perhaps the best option is Garth Gerhart (brother of the Vikings Toby Gerhart), who played for the Packers during the preseason and was recently resigned to their practice squad; Gerhart is a natural swing interior linemen and has experience with the Packers offense, but keep in mind he didn’t make the 53-man roster so there was obviously people who the Packers liked better.  Perhaps the only notable veteran free agent of note would be Kevin Matthews, son of hall of famer Bruce Matthews and cousin to the Packers own Clay Matthews; of course Matthews is only of note because of his last name and relation to Clay.  The only benefit to any of these options is that the Packers would keep the other 4 offensive linemen in place, but other than that there’s not much to like.

Pseudo-option 8: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Lang (C), Barclay (RG), Sherrod (RT) – position changes 3

I put this as a pseudo-option because it requires that Sherrod clear his medical issues and gets elevated to the active roster, and then practices well enough to gain the trust of the coaches.  I’m just speculating that Lang is a better center than Barclay based only on how poorly Barclay played center in the limited chances he got.  I’d also shy away from putting Sherrod at guard since he looks so out of place when the Packers asked him to play guard during his rookie year.  I’m not really putting this as an option as it depends on Sherrod getting promoted to the active roster, which while at the moment looks to be the case, how well Sherrod will play after not seeing the field for 2 years is yet to be seen.

 

Overall, I’d be willing to guess that option 1 is the most likely as rumors pointed to Barclay shifting to center in an emergency with the logical candidate for right tackle then being Marshall Newhouse.  Personally, I like option 4 better as you get to keep both Bakhtiari and Barclay at tackle and you mitigate the downside of Marshall Newhouse while still getting his experience in the offense.  The wildcard in my opinion is really Lane Taylor, if the Packers think Taylor can handle playing pivot then that makes the most sense, but would also indicate a general distrust of Newhouse (who I’m still predicting will be cut in favor of Sherrod whenever they ultimately decide to activate him).

However, when it comes down to it, the best option is still Bakhtiari/Sitton/Dietrich-Smith/Lang/Barclay as it appears that the line has finally gelled and has become a big reason why the Packers are experiencing so much success in the running game.  I don’t think any of the combinations I’ve listed is superior to the starting 5 right now and in all honesty if Dietrich-Smith were to get hurt it would probably be a disaster for the offense, perhaps even more disastrous than losing Randall Cobb (Finley, Jones and Nelson should be able to cover) or Clay Matthews (the Packers are now 4-1 in the last two year without him).  One of the biggest criticisms of Mike McCarthy and his staff over the year is their propensity to play “musical chairs” with the offensive line.  Unfortunately with the active man roster being so restrictive all teams have no choice but to play musical chairs to some point, but not to the same extent as a full line mix up as the Packers always seem to do.  I think this does highlight how precariously thin most teams are in terms of offensive line depth and while the season would definitely be over Aaron Rodgers went down, losing Evan Dietrich-Smith might not be too far behind.

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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30 Responses to “What Happens If Evan Dietrich-Smith Gets Hurt?”

  1. Steven says:

    Isn’t Garth Gerhart listed as a center? I know we just signed him to the practice squad. Would he be another option or no?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      Gerhart is a swing guard/center and I mentioned him under option 7; like I said he’s spent some of the offseason with the Packers but I get the feeling that Patrick Lewis was ahead of him, it’s also a little damming that Gerhart wasn’t asked to join the practice squad and as far as I know was on the street since the start of the season. Of course, the Packers have a long history of finding centers in the basement of the draft or free agency so maybe he can make it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      • Stroh says:

        Gerhart is far more a center then he is a guard. Like Wells played a little at guard early in his career, bet you didn’t know that. But Wells was always destined to be a Center, like EDS now and Gerhart is the same! Taylor is strictly an OG for now, he’s never played Center.

        Any injury to EDS puts Lang at Center w/ Taylor at OG for that game, then they would move Gerhart to the roster and he would be the starting Center the next game. Neither Taylor or Lang would be very good at snapping, much less shotgun snaps. Gotta have a guy that can do that so it doesn’t have such a huge impact on the playbook.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. Dobber says:

    I think 3 is the most likely scenario. Lang has a little experience in the middle and is much more seasoned than Barclay, who should worry about playing RT. Taylor, the new face, then stays at a position where he’s comfortable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Dobber says:

      Sherrod DID apparently practice Wednesday and Thursday.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

      • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

        I’m still hesitant to consider Sherrod until they activate him, for all we could know he might suffer a setback or something. Also, the question of who gets cut if Sherrod gets activated is an interesting question; from a roster standpoint, it would make most sense to cut Newhouse (or even better trade Newhouse), since it doesn’t make much sense to carry two backup tackles (which almost never happens). Then again Newhouse is pretty good insurance and I’m not sure the Packers want to rely on Sherrod without really seeing him in action first.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

        • Stroh says:

          Its unlikely Sherrod will be active on games day this year. But make no mistake he’ll be on the roster. He wouldn’t make it to PS even if he is eligible, too many other teams in dire need of at LT, so releasing him isn’t an option. He’s not going on IR, since he needs to get on the field much more than more time off the field.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      I think option 3 and 4 are variations on the “move Lang to center” theme; it’s really a question of talent vs. experience. Taylor is probably more talented at guard than Newhouse, but Newhouse obviously has more experience, and my feeling is that putting Newhouse at guard would mitigate some of his deficiencies.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      • Ed Schoenfeld says:

        There is also the possibility of moving barclay to RG and having Newhouse start at RT. I didn’t see that specific combination discussed above, though maybe I missed something.

        Yes it changes 3 positions, but if EDS is absent for a longer period that might be the best solution from a ‘suitable talent’ point of view.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

        • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

          My reason for not putting in that option was because you’d have to move everyone on the right side of the field one step to the left, which is probably not a good setup. Newhouse didn’t look great at right tackle in the preseason, I’m guessing Barclay practiced at guard when he was a swing linemen last year but I think the Packers like Barclay at tackle more and again no one knows how good Lang would really be at center. Personally, I think all the solutions are pretty poor unless Taylor can manage center.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

          • Ed Schoenfeld says:

            I can agree with that last line of your response. Losing Van Roten to IR at this point does leave the Packers thin in the interior OL.

            Hopefully the overall injury situation will die down and they can free up some roster spots for an interior lineman.(They moved RB Hill to get the new WR, but I dont think they need White and the new guy when Joames Jones comes back.)

            I think they probably need to do that eventually even if Taylor can play center (or sub at RG to they can move Lang). Going the restt of the season with just 7 OL doesn’t seem realistic.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        • Ed Schoenfeld says:

          Looks like I fianlly found a way to draw multiple thumbs down (not complaining, just observing).

          Are people really that down on Newhouse? Or is it just the scary thought of Newhouse at RT?

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    • Dobber says:

      My thought was that Taylor is more like Lang than Newhouse would be, which would lessen the need to shorten or adjust the playbook. Newhouse’s experience might change that, but I don’t see him being a brawler at all…not that Lang is, but Taylor had that reputation in college, didn’t he?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

      • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

        Taylor’s reputation was more of a road grader, which would definitely help in the running game, but I would assume the Packers would prioritize protecting Rodgers more than the running game (at least that’s been their priority since Rodgers really became dominant) so there’s that to consider as well.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. aaronqb says:

    If one could get into one of the practices, this question could probably be answered quite easily. My guess is Taylor replaces EDS at center.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      Actually I doubt that anyone would find anything if you went to an open practice. The Packers aren’t likely to show anything all that interesting since they know that other teams will be watching to see their depth chart and what not. Also keep in mind Taylor has zero experience at center but I’m guessing he’s practicing it now at least.

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  4. Im confused why the most obvious isnt being listed at all–brett Goode is longer snapper-he would be first choice at center. Long snapping to a holder or punter wouldnt be much different than to QB in shotgun–and of all the choices listed above with little to no direct snapping 9to QB right behind center) Goode would be best chice there to-he has just as much chance as any to mess up a snap-no more no less–actually i would say less since he is only one who already has the most important quality needed: the ability to snap ball and then quickly adjust to rushing defense-no one else does both-they are all experienced in only worrying about immediate handling of defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      Long snappers typically do not play center. Arguably the only reason Goode would be considered is because he can snap the ball (which is very little of what a center does), but snapping under center and even snapping it in the shotgun is markedly different from a long snap(about 5 yards away in the shotgun compared to 14 yards for a punter).

      Furthermore Goode likely has never done all the other things that a center does such as cut blocking, pulling, trapping, getting to the second level, double teaming etc. On a mental side, Goode likely doesn’t know the offense as he never plays on offense; he likely doesn’t know the line calls, how to diagnose blitzs and shift protections, how to communicate with the other linemen or even the quarterback (keep in mind Goode and Rodgers are never on the field at the same time).
      Finally, keep in mind the long snapper is a protected player now in the NFL so Goode likely does not know how to adjust to a rushing defense. Overall, long snapper is such a defined job at this point almost not long snapper plays another position and not other position plays long snapper.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

      • think little confusion as to which scenerio we are talking about–during a game or plaanning for next game.Im talking about finishing the game. I understand Goode is a little light in the pants but, guess what i was in similar situation where due to being down Olineman , i (a WR,CB) was asked to finish out a game as a lineman.I got knocked out 3 times, but eventually held up rest of game. That is with zero oline experience at all. Goode could if absolutely needed finish game and although little light , could get us through quarter or 2 just like Cobb (before he was hurt ) or Woodson were generally our 3rd QB option.After game options would be available with a whole week of practice to prepare person. The main thing is no solution is perfect -all of them lessen our line abilities.

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    • marpag says:

      Goode is 6’1″, 255 pounds. There’s no way he could hold out against 320+ nose tackles.

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  5. sorry before im corrected–meant to say Long Snapper not longer snapper :).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  6. Outis says:

    Crypto-Option #9 (from the bowels of TT’s mind): The un-retirement of Jeff Saturday!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      I’m pretty sure even Jeff Saturday would shy away from that.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      • Outis says:

        Of course I was just kidding. A humorous comment is often “disliked” by the far too serious regulars who haunt this site. Regarding the suggestion that Brett Goode be EDS’s replacement in the event EDS gets hurt, you made some very cogent observations. I would add that, physically, at 6′-1,” 255 lbs., Goode would be destroyed by some of those 300 lb. plus sumo wrestlers on opposing defenses. Besides, Goode’s got it “good” (pun intended) right now by being just the long snapper. He gets paid $715,000 for being on the field for a just few plays each game and faces limited risk to life and limb.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • Outis says:

          Sorry, Marpag, for repeating your earlier comment, which I missed when I was writing mine, about Goode’s size. Just goes to show that great minds think alike!

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  7. marpag says:

    Interesting question. While there’s no way to know what the answer is, there is absolutely no doubt that the Packers have already asked and answered the question, and whoever will be snapping the ball has been getting at least a handful of reps. So it’s possible – not likely – but possible, that a guy like Taylor goes in as a straight swap. but given the fact that the center often calls protections would pretty well rule out the rookie in my mind.

    Personally, I think number 3 might be the most likely, but the whole thing gets thrown into confusion when and if Sherrod and Tretter are back. (My guess is that the Packers might IR Tretter one way or the other, but I’m not sure why I think that…)

    Nice work.

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    • Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes says:

      I’m in with agreement with you, of course the Packers have contingency plans, but just based on the the possible permutations, they are kind of screwed if EDS gets hurt. I also agree Tretter ultimiately gets placed on IR, as even if he’s healthy enough to go, he’s has no experience with the offense and would just waste a roster spot at this point. I’ve wondered about Sherrod as well, I’m not entirely sure what they do, would they carry two swing tackles and inactivate Sherrod every game so he can practice at least? Do they release Newhouse assuming Sherrod can play in some capacity? Do they stick Sherrod on IR and let him battle him out next offseason?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Stroh says:

    If EDS is hurt either Lang or Taylor fill in at Center for the remainder of the game, then the Packers elevate Gerhart from the PS to the roster the following week.

    Easy enough…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  9. BRinMilwaukee says:

    Start practicing Taylor at Center, in earnest, so we can go with Option #5. The best option is the one with the fewest position changes.

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  10. tim says:

    As others have stated, the packers have at least a back-up plan for EDS, and a back-up to the back-up, and those involve guys that are active on gameday. I also think that #1 will be Lang to center and #2 would be Barclay. Heaven forbid, if EDS is out for more than the game he gets hurt in, somebody who’s not on the team now will be moving into the center position. I’m not sure what Gerhart gives them, there’s a reason he was cut. There’s a reason he wasn’t on the PS before now, but 2 other o linemen were. Hopefully they can improve upon their current situation with another guy, or intensive practice for somebody.

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