Linsley does 'great job' in debut at center
The 68,000 screaming Seattle Seahawks fans weren't enough. Inside the NFL's loudest stadium, after a mistake cost the Green Bay Packers a first-half timeout, Aaron Rodgers lent his voice.
The MVP quarterback, furious that center Corey Linsley didn't snap the football on command, let the rookie have it. Fists clenched, Rodgers got in Linsley's face like a hard-working drill sergeant, right there on the field for a national audience to see.
In the locker room, Linsley was asked about that "Welcome to the NFL" moment. In the middle of his first career start, was it fair for the 10th-year veteran to pounce on the first-time starter? Linsley didn't flinch.
"Obviously, he got on me like a good leader should," Linsley said. "Without a doubt. That's a leader right there."
It was Linsley's only noticeable blemish on the night, a silver lining in an otherwise brutal 36-16 defeat to the defending Super Bowl champions. The way he handled it showed a veteran's poise.
Linsley admitted he had nerves Thursday. He put his phone away early in the day, shutting everyone out as he focused on the game ahead.
"I've got about 70 text messages to answer," Linsley said after the game. "A lot of nerves, but I thought that at game time, nerves were the last thing on my mind."
The challenge couldn't have been more daunting. In the Packers' no-huddle offense, Linsley was charged with organizing communication along the offensive line. His voice had to be heard above the noise inside CenturyLink Field. His direction had to be accurate and precise against the NFL's best defense.
Any slipup, any momentary lapse, and everyone would know.
Green Bay's offense struggled, just as many offenses will struggle this season against Seattle. The Packers allowed three sacks and had fewer than 4 yards per rushing attempt. An interception deep in their territory led to a field goal. A protection breakdown led to a safety.
But the bad night wasn't Linsley's fault. The rookie received a plus-2.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, second on the offensive line behind only left guard Josh Sitton (plus-4.1).
"I think Corey did fine," right guard T.J. Lang said. "I think he was making all the right calls. He was right on point with all his snaps. I think the communication was good. Obviously, during the game you can't really tell how the guy next to you is doing, but it seemed like he was doing a good job.
"He's a guy that we're confident in. He's got all the tools to be successful."
That confidence is something Linsley said he's been working to earn since the moment he stepped in to replace injured starter JC Tretter. After the Packers' final preseason tuneup last week against the Kansas City Chiefs — Linsley's unofficial first start — the rookie said nothing's more important than gaining his veteran teammates' trust.
A fifth-round pick from Ohio State, Linsley is aware of his place. He's a rookie, meant to be seen and not heard. He's expected to do his job and let the veterans do the rest.
Linsley was excited just to get an opportunity to line up with the starting offense Thursday night.
"It was a heck of a time," Linsley said. "I thought that it was an honor to snap the ball to Aaron, and it was an honor to play next to Josh and T.J. Obviously, Bryan (Bulaga) and Dave (Bakhtiari) as well. I just can't thank them enough for all the help that they've given me so far, and I think I did decent for my first start."
Linsley didn't know it, but Lang said the rookie started earning his respect as soon as he arrived in Green Bay this spring.
Through organized team activities and minicamps, into the early part of last month's training camp, the veterans charted his progress. They paid attention to his approach, made sure his work ethic was up to par.
Lang can sense something potentially special in Linsley.
"I think he's got all of our trust," Lang said. "I think you can tell that from the last couple weeks, practicing together. All the meetings and the walk-throughs that we have, you understand that he's a sharp guy. Physically, he's got all the tools. So when it comes to game day, you've just got to go out there and play. You don't want to put too much pressure on him. You've just got to build his confidence up.
"That's a good team. It was a tough defense we played against tonight, but he was right on point. So I think this will be a good confidence-builder for him."
In the locker room, Linsley's relief was palpable.
Earlier this week, Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin had promised to pray for Linsley. It was going to be a long night for the rookie, Irvin said. In fact, Linsley did not fall flat on his face. While backup tackle Derrek Sherrod was a leaky valve on the offensive line, Linsley was no weak link.
By the end, Linsley even got the approval of his quarterback.
"Corey did a great job," Rodgers said. "He did a really good job of protection. I thought the protection was really good inside, and snaps were solid. He's learning. This is his first start, he's a rookie, but I thought he held his own well. I think he can do a good job for us."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.