GREEN BAY - JC Tretter will open the regular season as the Green Bay Packers’ starting center and his backup probably will be Don Barclay.
Another week will pass with two-year starter Corey Linsley on the physically unable to perform list because of a hamstring injury he first suffered during offseason workouts in May and later aggravated trying to get ready for training camp.
Given there are only three practices left before the Packers begin formal preparations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the likelihood of Linsley being prepared to play even a backup role would seem slim.
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Since Linsley has not practiced yet, he still would be eligible to start the season on PUP, where he would be out a minimum of six weeks and would not count against the 53-man roster. The Packers have not said when they think Linsley will be healthy, but coach Mike McCarthy named Tretter the starter Monday and Barclay still was working at center, suggesting the team may take the safe route with Linsley.
“It’s important to recognize what’s going on each and every day,” McCarthy said. “JC Tretter has had an excellent camp. I think I’ve answered that question repeatedly and JC, in my view, has earned the starting position at center.
“Availability is a big part of what you look for in your players. It’s unfortunate what Corey is going through and continuing to battle to get back out there. But there’s been a lot of time that’s gone by since he’s been out there. I think JC has done an excellent job.”
McCarthy did not offer any timetable for Linsley’s return, but given some past experiences he’s had with player hamstring injuries, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him give Linsley extended time to get healthy. Whether he is put on PUP would depend on what kind of timetable the medical staff has for his return.
With Linsley not getting closer to a return, the coaches moved Barclay, whose primary position has been right tackle, to center behind Tretter. He has gotten a snap or two at guard and tackle in practice, but in two exhibition games Barclay has played 124 snaps at center, clearly a sign they are preparing him as the backup.
“I’m taking all these reps at center and that’s my mindset right now, really focus on this position and keep getting better at it,” Barclay said. “That’s what’s being asked of me. I’ll fill in wherever they need me.”
Linsley has started 29 of 32 games since being drafted out of Ohio State in the fifth round in 2014. The three games he missed all came last season as the result of a right ankle injury. Tretter, who was the starter going into the ’14 season before a knee injury suffered in the third exhibition game landed him on injured reserve, was Linsley’s replacement.
Tretter has been groomed for this position since he was drafted in the fourth round out of Cornell in ’13, so it’s not like he’s unprepared. Injuries prevented him from claiming it as his own his first two years and Linsley’s play kept it that way until this offseason.
“Coming into the league, my goal was to come in and play and start,” Tretter said. “I think whether there were injuries or no injuries, your goal is to work your way into a starting position. I wouldn’t say it’s any extra sweet (now).”
Tretter said the lost opportunities of his first two seasons didn’t beat into him a matter-of-fact reaction to being named the starter for the Jacksonville game, and he wouldn’t say who informed him. Tretter said he always has approached things that way and isn’t thinking much further ahead than his next assignment.
Being named the starter could be a pathway to a nice long-term contract for Tretter — probably somewhere else — after this season. An unrestricted free agent, he can earn himself a lot of money with a strong performance this season, although he said he’s not looking that far ahead.
“I think I’d be lying if I wasn’t going to say I’m excited now,” Tretter said. “But again, it’s just going out there, and now you have to kind of run with it. You have to go out there and prove what you can do and continue to play well.”
Tretter and Linsley are built differently and possess different strengths.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Tretter started out as a tight end in college and is extremely athletic for someone his size. He excels at moving his feet and walling off defenders in the run game. The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Linsley has tremendous upper-body strength and rarely gets pushed back to the quarterback in pass protection.
Starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have played mostly with Linsley, but Tretter has been the starter since the start of training camp and so they appear to be comfortable with both players.
“They’re definitely different players, their play styles,” Sitton said. “JC is a little bit leaner, a little quicker type and Corey is more of a mauler type, big, real strong, physical guy. But they do such a good job with their footwork we’re kind of married up pretty well with both of them.
“We have two starting centers really.”
Tretter will face a challenge on opening day with a veteran Jaguars front that features Roy Miller, Jared Odrick and former Broncos tackle Malik Jackson, who signed a six-year, $90 million free-agent deal in the offseason.
This is what he signed up for.
“This is the first step,” Tretter said. “This is about what goes on from here. It’s about continuing to do your job and do it well. The end goal wasn’t this. The end goal was to continue to play at a high level. I don’t think the goal’s been reached. As a team, we still have so much more to accomplish. I’m excited to be a part of what I think this team can do.”