Rookie Linsley keeps calm in face of coming storm
Corey Linsley played in front of plenty of boisterous Big Ten crowds during his time at Ohio State.
Standing near his locker Sunday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers' rookie center recalled the thousands of fans from Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa screaming at the top of their lungs through every snap, whistle and score.
Not to mention the Big House and its 109,101 inhabitants.
"Michigan is quiet, really quiet," deadpanned Linsley, playfully alluding to the rivalry between the two schools. "Probably the quietest stadium in the Big Ten."
All those experiences will flood back to the surface when Linsley makes his first NFL start in place of an injured JC Tretter against the Seattle Seahawks this Thursday inside deafening CenturyLink Field.
The defending Super Bowl champions are 17-1 over the past two seasons (including playoffs) on their home turf. The Packers have even been one of the casualties, though some fans still argue the validity of their 14-12 loss in Week 3 of the 2012 season affectionately known for its "Fail Mary" ending.
What isn't disputed is the atmosphere. The reverberations of the crowd have been known to make the ground quake. When asked about it Sunday, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said it's an experience every NFL fan should have on his or her bucket list.
Whether it's a rookie like Linsley or a 10-year veteran quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, a great challenge awaits in the NFL's star-studded opener.
"It is a loud environment. It's very loud," Rodgers said. "I've played in some comparable ones over the years. At Kansas City is a very loud outdoor environment, at the University of Oregon is a very loud environment and obviously Seattle. I think those three are the ones that stick out when you think about my career and tough places to play."
For Linsley, the guidelines are the same now as they were in college – it's all about preparation.
The Packers have high expectations for their no-huddle offense this season and the knee injury Tretter sustained against Oakland two weeks ago hasn't deterred coach Mike McCarthy's vision of an offense that spits out 75 plays per game.
The offense started practice inside the Hutson Center since the start of training camp and been blaring music during team periods during nearly every practice.
Although it was Tretter taking all the snaps with Rodgers and the starting offensive line, Linsley quickly earned the respect of backup quarterback Matt Flynn and the second-team offense.
The 6-foot-3, 301-pound center was drafted in the fifth round of May's draft because of his strength, and it showed during the preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed one pressure in 70 pass-rushing blocks in the preseason and graded out well in the run game.
Whatever the outside perception was when Tretter went down, nobody made a big deal out of it when Linsley stepped in.
"He doesn't seem to get rattled," Flynn said. "Mentally he's not a real fired up guy, he's not a real hyper guy. He's just kind of a calm, collected guy. Nothing seems to really get to him and he seems to have a … mature demeanor. That's been impressive the way he's been able to just jump in."
Non-verbal communication is likely what will determine whether the Packers continue to press the accelerator this week against the NFL's reigning No. 1 defense, the same one that held Peyton Manning to eight points in Super Bowl XLVIII eight months ago.
Rodgers witnessed the destruction in person. Simply put, the Seahawks' pass rush got into a rhythm and the secondary followed suit. The key is trusting your preparation.
When you're in Seattle, it also means playing above the noise. On the perimeter, Jordy Nelson doesn't expect any problems for the receivers: "We could spend all day without talking and still get everything communicated out."
In the trenches, Linsley is flanked by the team's two longest tenured offensive linemen, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. Behind him stands a former MVP quarterback who commands McCarthy's offense.
Lost in the "Fail Mary" game was the fact Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half. Even when the Packers patched the holes at halftime, the offense still could only manage 12 points in four quarters.
Rodgers and the four starting offensive linemen sat out of the preseason finale against Kansas City, so Thursday will be the first time Linsley and his companions have taken an in-game snap together.
They have had extensive practice work together. On Sunday, Linsley said he and Rodgers even worked out a small kink in their on-field mechanics.
"You know Corey's a smart guy," Rodgers said. "He's played a lot of center in his time and he's going to be expected to play well. So we expect him to be able to keep up. I've said it a lot, but he's got two incredible guards on both sides of him who are going to help him out with the calls and make sure that he's ready. But Corey's going to study hard, he's very well-coached and he's going to be ready to go."
The Packers don't have another natural center on the roster behind Linsley at the moment, though Sitton has snapped often in practice since Tretter's injury in case of an emergency.
McCarthy doesn't foresee any issues. When asked Sunday, he said authoritatively: "Corey Linsley is our starter. So, obviously we feel good about where he is."
Linsley feels like he's ready after his 22 snaps against Kansas City. While he cautions that CenturyLink and the vaunted 12th man is to be respected, the rookie isn't nervous entering his first NFL regular-season game.
After all, this is moment he worked for his entire college career.
"I do feel confident about my physical abilities," Linsley said. "I do feel confident that strength is not an issue and quickness and everything is not an issue. That plays into the mental part, too, though. I can be as strong and as quick as I want, but if I'm going in the wrong direction, that doesn't mean anything. The strength and the quickness will get even better as I move forward in my mental preparation."
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