The roar was deafening. Immersed in one of the NFL’s loudest venues, Evan Dietrich-Smith faced one of the toughest tests of his young career at the Metrdome two weeks ago.
Ultimately, the 37-34 loss to the Minnesota Vikings wasn’t the desired result, but it was what the 26-year-old needed in only his second career start at center.
When Packers coach Mike McCarthy made the move to insert Dietrich-Smith in place of a bruised, battered and 37-year-old Jeff Saturday last month with two games left in the regular season, situations like the one in Minnesota were the reason.
With a silent count that differs in many ways from that of his mentor, Dietrich-Smith learned a lifetime of professional lessons during those 60 minutes against the VIkings. Lessons he hopes to take into Saturday’s NFC Divisional showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.
A week after the letdown, the Packers turned back the Vikings 24-10 at Lambeau Field to earn the trip to San Francisco this Saturday night at Candlestick Park.
The road test served its purpose. After having his senses impaled by having his first road appearance in one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums, Dietrich-Smith is ready for whatever challenges present themselves in San Francisco.
“The Tennessee game was kind of a comfort, getting in the groove of things, but the Minnesota game going down in playing in the crowd noise was the game we really needed as far as a line,” Dietrich-Smith said.
“My silent count is a little different than Jeff’s silent count was and some other guys are. We all have to be on the same page as far as getting off the ball, so we all have the same advantage – just communicating when it’s loud out there. I think that’s the biggest one and we’ve been build momentum through that.”
With Dietrich-Smith’s insertion into the offensive line, the musical chairs finally stopped.
A season-ending hip injury suffered in Week 9 to starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga set off a domino effect on the line with left guard T.J. Lang bumping out to Bulaga’s spot and Dietrich-Smith moving into Lang’s in the interim.
The emergence of undrafted rookie Don Barclay helped move everybody back to their stongest position as his four serviceable starts in Bulaga’s spot not only pushed Lang back to his position, but allowed the Packers to do the same with Dietrich-Smith.
While Candlestick Park isn’t known for its noise like the sound-infused Metrodome, the offensive line will be challenged against a 49ers’ front that pressured Aaron Rodgers numerous times and limited the Packers’ backfield to only 18 rushing yards in a 30-22 win in the regular-season opener on Sept. 9.
Dietrich-Smith will be a free agent in the offseason, so his late-season stretch could go a long way in auditioning for the starting center spot long term. Right now, he’s just looking to keep building on what the line has built over the last three games.
“As far as it goes how the group has been going, we’ve all played a lot together,” Dietrich-Smith said. “Now, it’s just been positions we’re all in, we’re kind of in home base positions for everybody. Now, we have to go out there and just play hard. I think it’s been going pretty well. It’s just another step to getting better.”
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