Veteran linemen Sitton, Lang ease Tretter's transition
If JC Tretter hunkers over the ball on the Green Bay Packers' first play of the season at Seattle in September, what will follow will be his first snap playing center in a game that counts.
But the pressure won't end there.
Inches away will be veteran defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel, both of whom were key to the Seahawks' win in Super Bowl XLVIII seven months prior.
Also, expectations are high that Tretter will end a dubious Packers streak of four starting centers in four seasons.
And perhaps most importantly, at least from a psychological standpoint, will be proving right the preseason predictions that this could be the Packers' best offensive line in years.
But if Tretter is to succeed in any or all of those points, a lot of the credit will go to the guys to his immediate left and right on Green Bay's line.
Josh Sitton at left guard has started 80 of the 89 games he's played in Green Bay, and T.J. Lang at right guard has started 50 of 75. When it comes to the nuances of the position, Tretter has a pair of mentors almost always within a foot or two from which to learn.
"I'll always, with T.J. and Josh, I'll come with a question about a certain way a defense lines up, what we'll go to," Tretter said. "And that's what it is, they've been in this league and this offense for so many years that they've seen pretty much every look you could possibly get.
"So you kind of tap in to all your resources and ask questions and make sure that one time out of thousand that we get that one certain look, that we'll be ready for it. So that's all. They're definitely helpful, especially in individual drills, they'll pull me aside and say, try this, try this a little differently."
Sitton and Lang have been in this position before, breaking in a new center. When Lang joined Sitton as a starting tackle in 2011, center Scott Wells was in his final season in Green Bay. In 2012, the new guy was Jeff Saturday, a decorated veteran who wouldn't finish the season. Last season, it was Evan Dietrich-Smith, who left for Tampa Bay this offseason.
"I've played with three or four different centers now," Lang said, "and I've seen some guys use some techniques that work and some things that don't work and, you know, for me with JC and with (rookie) Corey (Linsley), I'm just trying to give them input on things that I've seen work, techniques that I know they can add to their game to help them out."
Sitton and Lang aren't sure if they'll have yet another new teammate starting between them a year from now, but both speak highly of Tretter's chances of grabbing and holding onto the long-term starting job. This, despite Tretter never having played center in college at Cornell, where he was a tight end his first two seasons and a left tackle after that.
But having attended an Ivy League school and playing two more-skilled positions in college point to some of the reasons the Packers believe he can make the transition. Coaches and teammates talk about his learning ability and athleticism when asked about Tretter's strengths.
"Mentally, he'll be fine," Sitton said. "Smart kid, has T.J. and I helping him. So that shouldn't be a problem for him."
But center is a difficult position from a reaction standpoint, especially when you have the likes of Mebane and McDaniel bearing down on you in close quarters.
"With your hand on the ball, your defender is right in front of you and you've got to get that ball up and that guy's a couple inches away," Sitton said. "When you're a guard and tackle, you're a little bit further back.
"The biggest thing is having that reaction, very quick-twitch reaction with the guy so close to you. He was telling me he was used to having a couple of steps playing tackle and then reacting. It's right now. That's really the biggest thing."
Tretter's lateral movement, light feet and good balance were some of the attributes he showed at Cornell that attracted him to the Packers, who drafted him last year as their possible center of the future.
"He's a guy you watch out in space and he's very athletic and he's a strong guy and he's sharp," Lang said. "He understands what his job is and where he's getting help and where he should help."
But all that is theory. Tretter broke an ankle two months before his rookie training camp and participated in only a handful of padded practices at the end of last season. So far this training camp, the Packers have had only one practice in pads.
During one-on-one blocking drills against the defensive line Monday, Tretter was beaten twice by veteran nose tackle B.J. Raji. He'll have a total of 21 practices and four preseason games to get ready for the defending Super Bowl champions.
"Right now, I'm just focusing on tomorrow," Tretter said. "Focusing on getting the pads on, then we'll focus on Tennessee and then we'll focus on the Rams.
"So I don't think many of us are getting too far ahead of ourselves and worrying about Week 1 of the regular season because it's still a long way off in football terms. So we've still got time to grow and learn together and then we'll worry about Seattle when we start getting closer to Seattle."
And if all goes well, Sitton, Lang and quarterback Aaron Rodgers won't have a fifth starting center to work with next season.
"I've only been here for (Dietrich-Smith), so I don't really (know)," Tretter said. "Obviously I know we've had Scott (Wells) and Jeff (Saturday) and we've had kind of a roll here.
"But it is what it is at this point and obviously you want to work and earn that spot of being the guy that stops that process. But I don't really worry about it or focus on it or think about it very much at all."
— firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.