NFC North: Evan Dietrich-Smith

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers spent nearly five months preparing JC Tretter to start at center when the regular-season opens on Sept. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.

Now they have less than two weeks to prime rookie Corey Linsley for the task.

The news that Tretter sustained a knee injury in Friday's preseason game against the Oakland Raiders and will miss up to six weeks struck a bigger blow than the loss of nose tackle B.J. Raji, who sustained a season-ending torn biceps in the game.

Raji is the bigger, more recognizable name, but Tretter is the greater loss.

Tretter is the reason the Packers opted not to re-sign last year's starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who went to Tampa Bay in free agency.

The Packers felt so confident in the second-year pro even though he had never played center that they devoted their entire offseason to getting him ready to help Aaron Rodgers run the no-huddle without so much as looking at another option in practice. Rodgers was going to have his fourth different starting center in as many years anyway. Now it will be a center he might not take a game snap with before the opener given that Rodgers does not typically play in the final exhibition game.

"It can be done," said backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who has worked extensively with Linsley this summer. "It's the 10 other guys around him that are key factors in not letting there be a setback. It's a blow for us, spending that much time with a guy getting him ready, getting him prepared. But the thing about training camp is everyone's getting about the same amount of reps. We've also been getting Corey ready. We hope that there's not going to be a drop off there. And he couldn't have any better people surrounding him, whether it's the two guards [Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang] or Aaron behind him, with the mental part of it."

It will be a crash course. The Packers have just two more practices this week before the preseason finale against Kansas City on Thursday and then have a short week to prepare for the Thursday night opener against the defending champs.

"This will be my millionth center, so it's not anything new to us," said Sitton, who also took some snaps at center on Sunday. "I wouldn't say it's difficult; it's just a process. I told JC this morning, 'Right when I got real comfortable with you, now you're gone.' It sucks. It's unfortunate, but we're used to working with a bunch of guys, so it's something you've got to roll with."

Before Sunday's practice, Linsley had not taken a single rep with the No. 1 offensive line since the time he was drafted in the fifth round out of Ohio State in May.

The physical aspect of the game does not look like a problem for him. For example, Linsley's record in the one-on-one pass-blocking drill in training camp is a respectable 8-2. However, offensive line coach James Campen has had to harp on Linsley about mental mistakes and missed assignments in both practice and preseason games.

"It's definitely the mental side of the game that I've been slacking on and that I need to improve on," Linsley said. "It's just the subtleties -- the outside zone step as opposed to the inside zone step, the differences between the aiming point are very subtle -- but they make a difference. That's what I've got to work on."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If JC Tretter can handle the likes of defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Josh Boyd in practice, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy thinks his new starting center will be able to handle anything.

But so far in the first two days of full-pads training camp practices, Raji has proven too much for Tretter to handle.

"If you ever want to get a center ready, B.J. Raji and Josh Boyd are your guys because they definitely present a challenge to covering up a center," McCarthy said after Wednesday's practice.

As pleased as the Packers are with Raji's start – assuming it's not simply a product of Tretter's struggles – it means Tretter still has work to do in order to convince them he can handle the giant task of starting at center on opening night against the Seattle Seahawks.

By now, Tretter's backstory has been told time and again. A fourth-round pick in 2013, he broke his ankle during his first OTA practice as a rookie and never played in a game – preseason, regular season or playoffs – last year. He came off PUP and began practicing last November at center after playing his college career at Cornell as a tackle.

He became the favorite to win the starting job – the fourth different starting center the Packers will field in as many seasons – after Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent.

It has been anything but a seamless transition. Tretter has a 3-2 record in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill so far. That's a small sample but in a drill that favors the offense, that's a mediocre winning percentage. He's 2-2 against Raji and 1-0 against Boyd. Raji also manhandled Tretter in the one-on-one run-blocking drill on Wednesday and also during a team period for a tackle for loss on running back Eddie Lacy.

"He's getting a lot better," Boyd said. "He's got a very strong punch, very strong hands. He's getting a lot stronger with his feet, and he's a real quick guy. He's going to be good; he's just got to keep working at it."

The Packers seem inclined to give Tretter the time.

“He needs every rep,” McCarthy said. “I can’t tell you if there is someone in the locker room that’s prepared himself as much as he has, and he’ll continue to do so. It’s not going to look clean; our team isn’t clean. Let’s be honest with you, we’ve missed blocks, we’ve did some wrong things. That's why you practice. Our fundamentals are critical, and that goes from the player to the group all the way through. But JC needs this work."
Mike Barwis stepped out of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel just off Columbus Circle earlier this week and he couldn’t even make it to the street before being recognized.

The former Michigan strength and conditioning coach had been used to this in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Morgantown, West Virginia, and occasionally in airports before. It was a small part of celebrity for someone involved with college athletics, for a man who has helped paralyzed individuals walk again and who has a distinct personality even in the world of strength training.

Usually, the recognition would come as thanks for training college athletes or for doing a good job with a specific player. The past few weeks, that has changed.

[+] EnlargeSuh
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh showed off his desire to train during Wednesday night's episode of "American Muscle."
Over the past three years, Barwis has opened his own training center, BarwisMethods in Plymouth, Michigan. He has trained over 30 NFL athletes. He began consulting with the New York Mets. And earlier this month, he had a television show, “American Muscle,” debut on the Discovery Channel.

Strength coach – welcome to the new reality of reality television star.

“Literally came out of the Mandarin, hit the street, walked on the sidewalk and the bellhop, he said, ‘Hey man, your show is absolutely sick,’" Barwis told ESPN earlier this week. “I had to stop for a minute because I’m used to, ‘I really respect you and your coaching and I love your energy.’ I’m not used to ‘your show is really sick.’"

The attention might grow after Wednesday night. After a debut episode featuring Richard Sherman, the second episode features polarizing Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who worked out with Barwis and his crew for a few days during the offseason.

After the show was greenlit, producers Chris and Mike Farah – "Funny or Die" producers who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, – hoped Suh could participate because of his national name along with his local ties to Detroit.

Suh’s sister and manager, Ngum, had come down to the facility and helped work everything out for her brother, who is becoming a reality television show veteran. This is his third foray into reality TV after “Splash” and a dating show called “The Choice.”

The difference with this show is there is actual benefit in terms of training and strength for Suh.

During Wednesday night’s episode, Suh was challenged heavily by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Mike Martin, who trained with Barwis both at Michigan and then during every offseason since leaving school prior to the 2012 NFL draft.

Martin particularly went after Suh during lifts and then during sprints. Part of what Barwis and his crew of people were trying to do was push Suh to his mental limit to see if they could get him to react. By the end, almost everyone involved had a positive impression of Suh.

“His physiological capabilities are extremely impressive,” Barwis said. “He is a different guy. He’s not your average dude. What he can do physically, it’s impressive. To me, the way he does it, as strong as he is, as good of body control [as he has] and making adjustments on the fly.

“To biomechanical assessments and things that we were saying, like move this foot here, place that there, this guy can just do it. He’s a world class athlete. There’s a reason he’s an All-Pro status football player. He is the real deal when it comes to his physical capabilities.”

One of the things Barwis tried to fix was foot placement when Suh was coming off the line. This is detailed in the episode, but he fixed Suh’s mechanics with his toes to help with his speed coming off the line.

And Suh was clearly challenged throughout the episode – but he expected that.

“People like to definitely challenge me,” Suh said during the episode. “They see the way I play and they want to see how they measure up to me.”

Some other highlights from Wednesday night’s episode:

  • One of the other trainers at the facility, known as “Tank Dog,” is a die-hard Packers fan. When Suh showed up, the trainer was wearing a Packers jersey, to which Suh said “Take that weak jersey off.” He also covered Suh's car with a Packers banner and Packers signs.
  • Tank Dog also questioned Suh on his 2011 stomp of Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, but Suh wouldn’t go there. He continually just said “Man, that’s in the woods, man. That’s in the woods, man.”
  • Suh on people judging him: “People are always going to judge you. It’s a matter of do they take the time to make that correct judgment of who you are. There’s things that I’ve done in the season in the past that I can learn from and do better, so I don’t make the same mistakes.”
  • To me, one of the notable things in the episode was toward the end, when Suh was determined to finish a workout even though his sister was telling him he had to go. Suh ignored it and kept going. That also seemed to strike Barwis.

“That’s the kind of guy you want,” Barwis said. “It’s like picking a team and you’re telling me the guy has ridiculous athletic ability, is incredibly bright and likes to train? Sign him up.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It must have been an odd sight if any of his neighbors in Green Bay got a glimpse of what was happening in JC Tretter's garage this spring.

There was the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Packers offensive lineman bent over in a three-point stance snapping a football – to his sister.

But in many ways, it made sense that Tretter would be snapping a ball to whomever, whenever and wherever he could. After all, he was being touted as the leading candidate to become the starter at a position he has never before played.

"It was tough because it's tough to get a ball in your hand with all the rules in the CBA," Tretter said. "Whenever you can get the opportunity, you've got to take advantage of it. You've got to go find a park somewhere or something, and that's frustrating."

[+] EnlargeJC Tretter
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesJC Tretter has his sights set on being the Packers' starting center.
A college tackle at Cornell, the fourth-round draft pick in 2013 did not even begin practicing at center until Nov. 19 of last year, when he took part in his first-ever NFL regular-season practice. And now, here he was as the leading candidate to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Packers' starting center from last season who left in free agency to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tretter broke his ankle last May on the first day of his first OTA practice as a pro. He missed the rest of the offseason program, all of training camp and began the season on the physically unable to perform list. It was not until late November that he was even allowed to practice. Although he never was active for a game, it was during those late fall practice sessions that the idea of him transitioning to center was born.

That led to an offseason in which Tretter was determined to spend as much time as possible – and as much time as the collective bargaining agreement allowed – at Lambeau Field.

"When I was leaving the facility after our loss in the playoffs, it was, 'I'm going to come back and train like I'm going to be the starter,'" Tretter said. "No matter who they bring in or who they bring back, my goal was to come back ready to be a starting center in this league."

The Packers feel like he has done that. Even after drafting a potential starting center, Ohio State's Corey Linsley in the fifth round, the Packers opened OTAs last week with Tretter in front of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"JC's doing a really good job," Packers coach Mike McCarty said. "I think he's been here every single day since the season ended. I don't think there's been a day that I've walked through the locker room from February all the way through that he hasn't been here. I think that is really shown as far as the way he's jumped in there. So far, so good. I've been impressed with what I've seen."

Because the rules of the CBA prevent players from working directly with coaches – or even having a football in their hands at the team facility – before May, Tretter had to get creative. While he spent hours with the team's strength/conditioning and nutrition staff, he had to go elsewhere to get in his snapping work. Shortly after the season, he went back East to work out with former Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews, who was training for the combine and would eventually sign with the Atlanta Falcons.

"So I got to snap with him, and that was the main goal of going to New Jersey to train with him, was to get a quarterback there to work with," Tretter said. "Then I came out here a couple of months before everybody else came back."

Said offensive line coach James Campen: "The thing with him is he's very smart. He's got good leadership ability, a hustler, works extremely hard. He's got very good balance and he's a big, strong guy. He's a bigger man and his work ethic is outstanding."

The final point, Campen's praise of Tretter's work ethic, takes us back to Tretter's garage, where he was firing shotgun snaps to his sister, Katherine.

"She's good; she has a great cadence," Tretter said. "She was giving me protection adjustments. She was on top of her stuff."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' last starting center was a left tackle in college. So was one of the leading contenders to replace him.

That's what makes rookie Corey Linsley so unusual – and so refreshing – at least for the Packers.

The fifth-round pick from Ohio State is a center prospect who actually played center.

[+] EnlargeCorey Linsley
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesSafe to say that Packers offensive live coach James Campen is eager to work with rookie Corey Linsley. "I love his toughness, what he brings," Campen said.
"It's good to finally draft one that's played the position before," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after last weekend's draft. "We're all excited about that. I know [offensive line coach] James Campen's real excited."

Before general manager Ted Thompson picked Linsley at No. 161 overall in the draft, the Packers' leading candidate to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, was JC Tretter. A fourth-round pick last season, Tretter started at tackle for two years at Cornell after converting from tight end.

With Linsley, center is just about all he has known.

"I've felt at home at center since I got to Ohio State," Linsley said. "I always knew that was one of my better positions. Obviously, it took a little work for me to excel at the position. I've felt at home at center for a while."

After dabbling at guard and tackle early in his college career, the 6-foot-2, 296-pound native of Youngstown, Ohio, started 26 straight games at center for the Buckeyes over his final two seasons.

"He's a true center," said Linsley's agent, Bill Conaty.

Conaty should know. He spent nine seasons in the NFL as a center with the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals before getting his law degree and becoming an agent.

"He's an extremely smart player, and extremely strong," Conaty said of his client. "He's got great hands. That's one of the biggest things is his hands. He's got good, quick hands."

Linsley was the sixth of 10 centers selected in last weekend's draft, but only one of them – North Carolina's Russell Bodine (a fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals) – put up more reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine than Linsley. Bodine did 42 reps, six more than Linsley.

"I love his toughness, what he brings," said Campen, a former NFL center. "He really is what you're looking for from a mental standpoint. He's very physical. He goes after people, is a tempo-setter. He plays a physical brand of football."

Meanwhile, Tretter remains a bit of an unknown. He broke his ankle last May during an OTA practice and never took a single practice rep in training camp. He finally came off the physically unable to perform list on Dec. 10, although he did not play in any games.

In practice, he spent part of his time working at center for the first time in his playing career.

"When he came off of the PUP and was practicing, the majority of it obviously with the [scout] teams," Campen said. "He progressed every single week. That kid is a very headstrong kid, knows all the assignments and he's ready to go and compete. He wants to be the starting center also, just like everyone else does."

Campen and McCarthy will get their first extended look at their new center prospect on Friday morning, when the Packers begin their rookie orientation camp.

"It will be good just to have a natural center come in and play that position, and I view him as a center," McCarthy said. "I know we historically move our guys around, but I think it's important for him to come in and play center."
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A wrap-up of the Green Bay Packers' draft. Click here for a full list of Packers draftees.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Jared Abbrederis is the first Wisconsin player drafted by the Packers since guard Bill Ferrario (fourth round) in 2001.
Best move: Even though much of the pre-draft focus was on improving the defense -- something general manager Ted Thompson did by taking Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round (No. 21 overall) -- he did not ignore the other side of the ball. He wisely added depth to the receiving core with the highly productive Davante Adams of Fresno State in the second round (No. 53) and later local product Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin in the fifth round (No. 176), and the small-school Jeff Janis from Saginaw Valley State in the seventh (No. 236). He then took a shot with developmental tight end Richard Rodgers of Cal in the third round (No. 98) and brought in competition for the starting center job with Corey Linsley of Ohio State in the fifth round (No. 161).

Riskiest move: Defensive tackle Khyri Thornton. Taking him in the third round (No. 85 overall) seemed too high. Even he didn't think he would be drafted on Day 2. "Khyri was an interesting one, kind of came up later in the process," said Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst. "But he had so much twitch, so much upside, it was something we couldn't pass on. The way he's able to run, a 4.9 guy for a 312-pound man, the kid can run. He's got a lot of upside. We felt fortunate to get him." You could also call Baylor cornerback Demetri Goodson a risk, although it's less of one in the sixth round (No. 197). Goodson will turn 25 years old next month and was out of football for five years. He played three seasons of basketball at Gonzaga before he transferred to Baylor in 2011 and played three years of football.

Most surprising move: For the first time in 10 drafts as the Packers general manager, Thompson did not make a single trade. He picked at his spot all nine times. By the time the draft reached the fifth round, it became clear this was going to be a different draft strategy for Thompson. He had never before made it that far into a draft without making a trade. Perhaps equally surprising was the fact that he picked a player from the University of Wisconsin -- and it wasn't linebacker Chris Borland, a player many thought might interest the Packers. Instead, he took Abbrederis, making him the first UW player drafted by the Packers since guard Bill Ferrario (fourth round) in 2001.

File it away: Next year, when Thompson tells you he doesn't draft for need, remember this: Among his first six picks were a safety (Clinton-Dix), a receiver (Adams), a tight end (Rodgers) and a center (Linsley). Not coincidentally, the Packers had an opening for a starting free safety, lost a receiver (James Jones) and a center (Evan Dietrich-Smith) in free agency, and have not re-signed last year’s starting tight end (Jermichael Finley).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers began this offseason with 17 players scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

They have re-signed five of them: outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, tight end Andrew Quarless, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks.

Four of them signed with other teams: center Evan Dietrich-Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), receiver James Jones (Oakland Raiders), tackle Marshall Newhouse (Cincinnati Bengals) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (Raiders).

That leaves eight still on the market. Here's an update on where things stand the Packers’ remaining free agents:

Kahlil Bell, RB: With Starks back on a two-year, $3.165 million deal, it’s unlikely Bell, a late-season pickup last year, will be re-signed. The Packers already have five halfbacks with NFL experience on the roster -- Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Michael Hill and Starks -- plus practice-squad member Orwin Smith.

Jermichael Finley, TE: There's no guarantee Finley will receive medical clearance to resume his career following last season's neck injury. Finley reportedly failed a physical during a free-agent visit to the Seattle Seahawks, and the Packers say they are still monitoring his condition. At this point, Finley's career remains on hold.

Matt Flynn, QB: It's all but a lock that the player who kept last season alive while Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with his broken collarbone will return. Coach Mike McCarthy wants Flynn back and would like to keep three quarterbacks on the roster this season. Expect Flynn to be re-signed soon.

Robert Francois, LB: The special-teams player is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. If healed, he could be re-signed for a minimum contract later in free agency.

Johnny Jolly, DT: Like Finley, Jolly underwent neck fusion surgery. But Jolly's injury was not as severe as Finley’s and the fusion took place lower in his neck, which makes it safer for him to resume his career. McCarthy said he liked how Jolly played last season, so expect the Packers to bring back Jolly at some point.

John Kuhn, FB: The Packers remain in talks with the fan favorite who completed a three-year, $7 million contract last season. Kuhn is a valuable special teams player and has been their best pass protector out of the backfield the past several seasons. But it's not a given he will return. And if he does, it likely will be for less money than he received three years ago.

Ryan Pickett, DT: The plan to move Raji back to nose tackle might make Pickett expendable. Or perhaps his age (34) has already done that. McCarthy was non-committal when asked about Pickett's status last week at the NFL annual meetings.

Seneca Wallace, QB: McCarthy would like to bring four quarterbacks to training camp, but don't expect the 33-year-old Wallace to be one of them. He couldn't stay healthy when the Packers needed him after Rodgers' injury. Instead, they would like to add another young, developmental prospect.
The ESPN Insiders NFL team of veteran reporter Mike Sando along with Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates combined to grade all 32 teams in free agencyInsider so far.

When it came to the Green Bay Packers, apparently the big-splash signing of defensive end Julius Peppers was only enough to warrant a grade of slightly better than average. The Packers also re-signed some of their own key free agents, including cornerback Sam Shields, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and defensive end/outside linebacker Mike Neal.

In giving the Packers a C-plus, Sando wrote: "Keeping Shields, Raji and Neal from leaving was important, but the big question is whether Peppers can make the Packers better on defense."

Wrote Riddick, a former NFL scout: "Peppers has that connection with [Packers defensive line coach Mike] Trgovac and has wanted to play in a 3-4. They got good value. Playing with Clay Matthews is a good fit there. I think Ted Thompson is good at making those targeted free-agent gambles. Everything else they do will be through the draft."

Among the Packers' key losses were center Evan Dietrich-Smith (who signed Tampa Bay) and receiver James Jones (who signed with Oakland).

Polian, the former Indianapolis Colts general manager, said that he thought Dietrich-Smith would be missed. Polian also wasn't convinced that Peppers would be worth the money, but he liked some of the Packers' re-signings. He thought most teams would miss Jones, too, but the Packers might be fine.

"They produce receivers on an assembly line there," Polian said.
The day after the Green Bay Packers' season ended, Bryan Bulaga was asked whether it would be much of an adjustment if he had to move back to right tackle in 2014.

Bulaga chuckled and said: "I didn't even get a full year at left tackle, more like two months."

In terms of actual live practice, it was more like two weeks.

Bulaga injured his knee during the annual Family Night scrimmage on Aug. 3 and missed the entire 2013 season. Combine that with the fact that rookie David Bakhtiari was more than just OK in Bulaga's place at left tackle last season, and it made sense that Bulaga would move back to the right side, where he started from 2010-2012.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Tuesday confirmed that will be his plan heading into this season. He told WBAY-TV as much at the NFL annual meetings.

McCarthy said he informed Bulaga recently of his decision. Bulaga, a former first-round draft pick, is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

A year ago, McCarthy moved Bulaga to left tackle as part of a massive offensive line overhaul that also included guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton switching sides.

"I think that's part of my game that I like; I feel like I can go back and forth," Bulaga said in January.

"I felt pretty comfortable [at left tackle] at the time I got hurt in the Family Night. I felt pretty good about where I was at."

With Bakhtiari set to stay at left tackle and Bulaga back on the right side, it leaves another former first-round pick, Derek Sherrod, as a possible swing tackle. That role had been occupied last season by Marshall Newhouse, who signed a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Sherrod returned late last season from the broken leg he suffered in 2011. After missing all of the 2012 season, he was on the roster for the final seven games in 2013, but played only six snaps on offense.

The Packers also have Don Barclay, who started all but two games at right tackle last season. Barclay could end up moving inside to compete with JC Tretter for the starting center job. The Packers lost last season's starter, Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed a free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Free-agency review: Packers

March, 18, 2014
Most significant signing: Re-signing perhaps their top three defensive free agents -- cornerback Sam Shields, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal -- was important, but that didn't necessarily make the Green Bay Packers' 25th-ranked defense better. They hope the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers does that. Peppers had seven sacks in a down season last year for the Chicago Bears, yet that was more than any of the Packers' defensive linemen had last season. Even at age 34, expect Peppers to be motivated to bounce back and energized playing for a team he considers a Super Bowl contender.

Most significant loss: When Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, it ensured that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take snaps for a fourth starting center in as many seasons. It also broke up an offensive line group that started all but two games together last season. The most likely internal replacement is second-year pro JC Tretter, but he was a college tackle at Cornell who did not play a single snap last year as a rookie.

Biggest surprise: Apparently 24 touchdown catches over the last three seasons doesn't count for much on the free-agent market. How else to explain why it took a week for anyone to sign former Packers receiver James Jones, who finally landed a three-year deal with the Oakland Raiders on Monday? Maybe it's that Jones will turn 30 on March 31. While Jones caught only three touchdowns last season, he had 14 in 2012 and seven in 2011. Last season, he caught 59 passes for a career-best 817 yards despite missing nearly three full games.

What’s next? Even after Jones signed, the Packers still have 10 of their own free agents still unsigned. Among them are quarterback Matt Flynn, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Jermichael Finley (visited the Seattle Seahawks), tackle Marshall Newhouse (scheduled to visit the Cincinnati Bengals) plus defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett.
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.

Packers lack continuity at center

March, 14, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In his first nine seasons as the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, Brett Favre had two starting centers -- James Campen (two years) and Frank Winters (seven).

Aaron Rodgers will be on his fourth in four seasons after Evan Dietrich-Smith signed a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. And there is a decent chance it will be someone who has never played the position in the NFL.

Dietrich-Smith completed his first full season as a starter last year after taking over for Jeff Saturday late in the 2012 season. Saturday lasted just one year after replacing Scott Wells, who was Rodgers' primary center in his first four seasons as a starter.

Perhaps the center-quarterback relationship isn't crucial, but don’t tell that to Rodgers. Shortly after the season on his ESPN 540 Milwaukee radio show, he called it "very important."

He then recalled a conversation he had with Dietrich-Smith during training camp.

"I just challenged him that this was a great opportunity and that he could really set up himself up to be a long-term guy here with a solid performance in training camp," Rodgers said. "And he did that and more.

"He's a very intelligent guy who had a very good season for us, and I'm proud of him in his development, and I hope that he’s around a long time."

Instead, Rodgers will have to adjust to someone new again.

The Packers have plenty of options, although none with any significant experience.

They like JC Tretter, a fourth-round pick last season who played tackle in college at Cornell. But Tretter did not play at all last season after breaking his ankle during the first week of offseason practices in May and only began working at center in November, when he returned to practice from the physically unable perform list.

"I think that kid has a lot of potential to play all five positions," Campen, the Packers' offensive line coach, said after the season. "Will he take reps at center? Yeah, sure he will. Wouldn't be surprised if he's taking reps at guard or tackle. You know, there's a lot of things that have to go through that process, certainly [Tretter] has displayed the ability to play center, yes."

Third-year pro Don Barclay, who played right tackle the past two seasons, could be an option. He worked at center during training camp last summer before he took over at right tackle. With Bryan Bulaga expected to return from his knee injury and go back to right tackle, it could free up Barclay to move inside.

The Packers have no plans to move T.J. Lang to center even though Lang slid over from right guard in two games last season when Dietrich-Smith was injured. The Packers don’t think Lang is a long-term solution at center and also believe he’s far more valuable at guard.

It's possible they could draft another center prospect, although it wouldn't likely be a high pick.

They also could pursue a free-agent center. The best one on the market is Alex Mack, a Pro Bowler with the Cleveland Browns. Mack currently carries the transition tag from the Browns, who could match any offer Mack gets from another team. The transition tag would pay Mack a $10 million salary this season. The most likely scenario for Mack to leave Cleveland might be in a trade.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We're on to the fourth day of full-blown free agency and a week removed from the start of the negotiating period, and none of the Packers' unrestricted free agents have signed with other teams.

The longer things stay that way, the better chance they have of retaining players such as center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and perhaps some of the others on the Packers' lengthy list of free agents.

Dietrich-Smith, the starting center last season, visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but remains unsigned. Other than tight end Jermichael Finley, who visited the Seattle Seahawks, none of the Packers' other free agents have been known to make visits.

One by one, the Packers have begun to re-sign some of their own free agents. After getting deals done with cornerback Sam Shields on Saturday and outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal on Wednesday, general manager Ted Thompson re-signed tight end Andrew Quarless on Thursday.

Could more re-signings be far off?

Here's a recap of the rest of the Packers-related happenings from Day 3 of free agency, with a little perspective added in:
  • Re-signing Quarless gives the Packers a player they want to continue to develop, but it didn't necessarily solve all of their issues at tight end.
  • The Packers expect a visit from free-agent defensive tackle Vance Walker perhaps as soon as Friday. Walker, a starter for the Oakland Raiders last season, doesn’t have star power but could provide some depth on the defensive line. Walker visited the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday.
  • The full breakdown of Neal’s contract showed that his salary-cap number is actually higher in 2015 than it is this season.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To the surprise of no one, the Packers sat idle on the first day of free agency.

And Day 2 could be more of the same.

As of the end of the day on Tuesday, the first day of the new NFL year, the Packers did not have any visits set up with any of the available players.

If the Packers do anything in free agency -- and they often don't -- it's almost never in the opening days. As good a signing as Charles Woodson was for the Packers in 2006, it's worth remembering that almost no one else wanted him. He did not settle for the Packers' offer until three days before the draft that season.

The Packers view defensive end Julius Peppers, who was released by the Chicago Bears, as the best defensive front player still available. But at age 34, he probably isn't a player Packers general manager Ted Thompson would be willing to pay.

Perhaps the next best option as a pass-rusher is DeMarcus Ware, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys for the same reason as Peppers. Ware is younger (he turns 32 in July) and would be a good fit for the Packers' 3-4 defense. The Packers spent part of Tuesday discussing Ware but have not set up a visit. That would likely only happen if Ware goes unsigned after the initial wave of interest.

Here’s a recap of the rest of the Packers-related happenings from day one of free agency, with a little perspective added in:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Seattle Seahawks will be the first team to take a look at tight end Jermichael Finley.

Just minutes after Finley hit the free-agent market, an NFL source said he would arrive in Seattle on Tuesday night and will visit with the Seahawks on Wednesday. One of the first orders of business, according to the source, was a meeting with the Seahawks doctors, who will examine his surgically repaired neck.

Finley underwent fusion surgery between the C-3 and C-4 vertebra last November following the season-ending neck injury he sustained on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns.

It's unclear if the Green Bay Packers have had a chance to examine Finley recently. In fact, it's not even known if Finley's surgeon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, has cleared Finley. Maroon is the Pittsburgh Steelers' team doctor.

Last month at the NFL scouting combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy was optimistic that Finley would be cleared, saying the injury wasn't exactly the same as the one suffered by former Packers safety Nick Collins. The Packers released Collins following a C-3/C-4 fusion surgery in 2011.

Finley is a free agent for the second time in three years. Two years ago, he opted to sign only a two-year deal (for $14 million) in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.

If Finley signs with the Seahawks, he would be reunited with general manager John Schneider, who was one of packers general Manager Ted Thompson's top personnel advisors in Green Bay when the Packers drafted Finley in the third round in 2008.

In 70 games with the Packers over six seasons, Finley has 223 catches for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2012, he set a franchise record for receptions by a tight end with 61.

In other news involving Packers' free agents, center Evan Dietrich-Smith is scheduled to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan confirmed the visit. The New York Giants also are believed to be interested in Dietrich-Smith.