The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line was as stressed by injuries as it’s ever been under head coach Mike McCarthy last season.
Josh Sitton battled back problems for most of the year. T.J. Lang played through a shoulder injury that eventually required offseason surgery. David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley and Bryan Bulaga all dealt with ankle issues. Additionally, Bulaga missed three games after in-season surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
The revolving door saw the starting five play in only eight of 18 possible games together. Injuries forced the Packers to test their depth on the line. In a couple instances, Green Bay was one injury away from having to put long-snapper Brett Goode on the field.
Through it all, JC Tretter was the constant.
The former fourth-round pick, once slated to be the team’s starting center, finally received his opportunity at extended playing time this past season. His first meaningful reps came at what’s viewed at his best position in three spot starts for Linsley at center.
However, the Packers tabbed him to make an emergency start at left tackle against Washington in the wild-card playoffs. After weeks of uncertainty, Tretter kept edge rushers out of Aaron Rodgers’ blind spot and allowed Bakhtiari one more week to allow his ankle to heal.
Although the Packers return their entire starting line in 2016, Tretter has inserted himself into the conversation for a larger role based on how well he played in his 447 offensive snaps last season.
“JC is a starter. I viewed him like that clearly last year,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy at this week’s NFL owners meetings. “You like to find some ways to get him on the field whether it’s playing some tight end or things like that. He’s a team guy. We’re fortunate to have him. I definitely view him with starting potential.”
Tretter actually started his college career at Cornell as a 238-pound tight end before developing into the Big Red’s starting left tackle during his last two seasons. The offense has lacked a blocking tight end since Tom Crabtree left in free agency in 2013 and often turned to using an extra lineman in run situations.
The Packers occasionally used Tretter as that sixth lineman during the first half of the season before injuries started to hit. He’ll likely enter next season as the primary backup at center and both tackle spots after proving to be a quick study at all five positions on the offensive line.
Tretter is scheduled to be one of four Green Bay offensive linemen who’ll be unrestricted free agents after next season. Based on his work so far, the 25-year-old could wind up being as attractive on the open market as Bakhtiari, Sitton and Lang a year from now given his age and upside.
Right now, the Packers feel good about where they stand on the offensive line with Tretter and backup guard Lane Taylor having shown they can handle added responsibility. Green Bay would prefer to keep its starting five on the season like it did in 2014, but McCarthy is confident in its reinforcements.
“That’s the key,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, Bryan was beat up this year. He didn’t have his best year. The key to your offensive line is those guys playing 16 games a year. When your line plays together that statistic right there will tell you a lot.
“The best lines are the ones that line up each and every day. All those things they do… it’s like, ‘He made a call.’ Well, they don’t really make a call, it’s reaction and feeling it. You don’t just get that without the proper amount of reps with those guys. It’s two of the better offensive lines we’ve had in my time here. The key is for those guys to play every week together.”