Center is a thankless position, one of the most undervalued and misunderstood in football. But not to Aaron Rodgers.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback appreciates what rookie center Corey Linsley has done this season. Remember, Linsley wasn't even supposed to be in this spot. Not as a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State.
This was effectively a redshirt season, right up until second-year center J.C. Tretter fractured his knee in the Packers third preseason game.
Two weeks before Green Bay's season opener at the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Linsley went from backup to starter. He only had one preseason tuneup game – without Rodgers – against the Kansas City Chiefs to get ready. To say he hasn't missed a beat would be undervaluing how effective the rookie has played. At least to Rodgers.
"Corey has played as solid as anybody," Rodgers said Tuesday on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "I think at some point there needs to be a little bit of campaigning about him for Pro Bowl. He's played that good. He doesn't have the name recognition yet. A lot of times, you get voted in the year after you deserve to and maybe a year longer than you deserve to, as they say."
Yes, Linsley has benefited from playing between veteran guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. Sitton, especially, has made his own case for the Pro Bowl through the season's first nine games.
The Packers' left guard – a second-team All-Pro last season and Pro Bowler in 2012 – hasn't allowed a sack this season. He also leads the NFC with a 98.8 pass blocking efficiency, and Green Bay's offensive line with a season grade of plus-17.3, according to Pro Football Focus.
It's hard to evaluate centers. They play in the middle of the offensive line, often obscured by a mass of humanity in the trenches. Usually, they're only noticed after mistakes.
Linsley has made few mistakes this season. He's one of three NFC centers to allow no sacks while playing more than 300 passing snaps, joining Kory Lichtensteiger of the Washington Redskins and J.D. Walton of the New York Giants. His plus-9.3 overall grade and plus-8.7 run block grade from Pro Football Focus is second highest among NFC centers, behind Max Unger of the Seattle Seahawks. Linsley ranks third leaguewide in both.
Usually, veterans are reserved for the Pro Bowl. Perhaps offensive rookie of the year consideration is a more realistic area to campaign. Linsley would be a longshot. From New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks to Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins, the 2014 season isn't lacking deserving candidates at skill positions. Dallas Cowboys tackle Zach Martin has also earned attention.
Still, it's clear Linsley has played good football through the first nine games of his career. Most telling, Linsley played well enough to keep his job even after Tretter returned from injured reserve last week. There was never any hesitation with the coaching staff.
Earlier this season, Packers coach Mike McCarthy called Linsley one of the most impressive rookies in recent years. Rodgers clearly agrees.
"Corey has been so solid at center," he said. "I'm really proud of him. He's been a rock in there. Now, he's had two great guys to play next to, but I think they'd say the same thing – that he's been playing at a really high level. So I'm proud of him."
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