- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You’re probably not staying up at night worrying about who the Green Bay Packers' backup center is, but that became an issue on Thursday because starter Evan Dietrich-Smith was held out of practice because of a toe injury.
Early in training camp, the Packers were cross-training Don Barclay at tackle, guard and center. Now, with Barclay locked in a battle with Marshall Newhouse for the starting right tackle job, the Packers had to explore other options at center.
On Thursday, second-year pro Greg Van Roten took Dietrich-Smith’s snaps with the No. 1 offense and would likely start at center if Dietrich-Smith can’t play in Saturday’s preseason game at St. Louis. That would go a long way toward determining whether Van Roten is a viable option as the backup center.
“If he does play a lot or he does get to start, this will be a huge experience for him,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’ll be part of his evaluation.”
In the preseason opener against Arizona last Friday, Van Roten played three positions: center, left guard and right tackle.
A left tackle in college at Penn, Van Roten is still learning the center position, but it might be his best avenue to making the roster. Last season, he spent the first five weeks on the practice squad and was promoted to the roster on Oct. 13. He was active for seven games as a backup and special teams player.
The most difficult part of playing center, especially for someone who has never played the position before, is making the proper reads and calls. Van Roten received mixed reviews in that area.
“He’ll make some calls that it’s like, ‘Whoa, this kid’s played his first game in the NFL at center in preseason, and he I.D.’d some things and he was 100 percent right,’” offensive line coach James Campen said. “And I knew if I was sitting in his shoes, I wouldn’t have made that call. I’d have done the safe thing, but he made the right call on an adjustment.
“But then on a basic look, he goes and slides the line the wrong way, but we got lucky because they blitzed that way. It’s the simple [mistakes] that he’s got to get rid of, [but] he really came on the last week and a half in practice.”
Here were some other developments from Thursday’s practice:
Running back DuJuan Harris, who on Monday returned to practice after missing the first two weeks of camp because of a knee injury, didn’t do much and won’t play against the Rams.
Rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who missed the preseason opener because of a hamstring injury, practiced full go on Thursday and is likely to play at St. Louis.
Cornerback Sam Shields didn’t do much at practice because of an apparent stomach illness. Said McCarthy: “It’s kind of funny, I shouldn’t say this in a press conference. I actually used the restroom after Sam, so I think he’s OK now.”
The full impact of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' snap limits, which I wrote about on Wednesday, was on display. He took fewer than five snaps in team periods. McCarthy said he expects the quarterback rotation against the Rams to be similar to the preseason opener, when Rodgers played one series followed by Graham Harrell (six series), Vince Young (two series) and B.J. Coleman (two series).
For the first time since he was signed nearly two weeks ago, Young looked more comfortable throwing deep. He took several shots down the field and connected on one for a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ross, although Ross had to come back for the ball because it was slightly underthrown.
Backup tight end Brandon Bostick has come on of late, but he dropped a pass from Coleman during the two-minute drill.
For the first time all camp, Giorgio Tavecchio got the first rep in a field goal period ahead of incumbent Mason Crosby. Both kickers went 2-for-2. Tavecchio converted from 36 and 43 yards, while Crosby was good from 40 and 42. For all of camp, Tavecchio is 37-of-41 and Crosby 32-of-41.
Others who missed practice were WR Charles Johnson (knee), WR Randall Cobb (biceps), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), WR Jordy Nelson (knee), DE Datone Jones (ankle) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).
What’s next: Friday is a travel day in advance of Saturday’s preseason game at St. Louis.