The Green Bay Packers have struggled to solidify the center position after a long run of successful lineman such as Frank Winters, Mike Flanagan, and Scott Wells manning the position. Last year the Jeff Saturday experiment was deemed a failure despite his Pro Bowl selection, due mainly to name recognition as a former All-Pro for the Indianapolis Colts, and long-time reserve Evan Dietrich-Smith finally was given the opportunity to start.
By Week 16, the Packers coaching staff concluded that Dietrich-Smith was the best option at center, and the veteran was essentially given a tryout to be the team's starting center in 2013. Even though there are plenty of doubters outside the franchise and among worried fans, the Packers decided to go forward with Dietrich-Smith and even handed him a vote of confidence when they passed on highly ranked centers Travis Frederick, Brian Schwenke, Barrett Jones and Khaled Holmes in the NFL Draft.
Dietrich-Smith is the only true center on the roster at the moment, and the job is his and no true contender will push for his spot. Greg Van Roten, a second-year player out of Pennsylvania, has had an impressive camp and preseason opening game but at best he will be a utility man upfront. The Packers have also worked Don Barclay into the mix at center, but with his impressive play at RT he is now pushing to be a starter as well.
So what should Packers fans expect from Dietrich-Smith this year? The three-man combo inside with Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang and Dietrich-Smith have a solid working relationship and the three mesh well together giving the Packers needed continuity on the O-Line. Since the Packers are a pass first offense, the center is vital in line calls and calling out the protection, and Dietrich-Smith has a solid hold on the offense and the pass blocking schemes.
Dietrich-Smith also has the support of Aaron Rodgers, which has definitely played a role in his rise up the depth chart. Last year Rodgers was one of main players who pushed for him replacing Saturday at center, and Rodgers clearly feels comfortable going forward with Dietrich-Smith. It is no coincidence that Rodgers compiled over 700 yards and seven touchdowns in two weeks once Dietrich-Smith took over in Week 16, and fans tend to forget that the success DuJuan Harris experienced came after Dietrich-Smith became the starter.
At 6'2" and 308 lbs Dietrich-Smith possesses the shorter, compact body frame that the Packers have preferred with past centers. Dietrich-Smith maintains solid balance and quick feet, and he does a good job at getting on blocks and shielding off the defender. He is capable of giving the Packers a push upfront and allowing the guards to work to the next level.
There is a reason Dietrich-Smith hasn't been given a chance before last season though. He is slightly undersized for the position and there are definite concerns about Dietrich-Smith lasting a whole season as a starter (only nine starts in four seasons). Dietrich-Smith also has to face the likes of Kevin Williams, Shariff Floyd, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Henry Melton so he will be tested early and often.
The fact is that this will be Dietrich-Smith's first true chance to prove that he is a NFL starter over a full season. He is battle tested and has the attributes to be successful for the Packers. Only time will tell if Dietrich-Smith is the long-term answer at center, but he will play a major role in the success the Packers offense has this year.
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