The Green Bay Packers have not been known for having a dominant offense line the past few seasons — but if projected starting J.C. Tretter is the player the Packers believe he can be, then the biggest question facing the 2014 offensive line will be answered and a group that was once overlooked could become one of the team’s strongest units.
The growth of the offensive from just an average unit to one that could become one of the best in the NFL started with the development of Josh Sitton, who has quietly turned himself into a Pro Bowl player and is as a good as any guard in pro football. On the other side of the line, T.J. Lang, Green Bay’s other guard, has started 47 games over the past three seasons and is at least an above average starter.
Green Bay continued to build its offensive line when it stumbled into their left tackle of the present and future by selecting David Bahktiari in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The former Colorado standout came out as a junior-entry into the draft and inexplicably fell to day three of the draft. Had he stayed for his senior season, he likely would have been a first or second-round pick, but the league’s loss was the Packers’ gain as they found a starting tackle in an unlikely spot.
Bahktiari impressed the coaches in training camp and was going to push for a starting job at right tackle, when Bryan Bulaga was lost to a season-ending injury. That forced Green Bay to move the rookie to left tackle and he never looked back. Now, he is locked in on the left side and Bulaga can shift back to right tackle, where he has proven to be a pro-bowl caliber player when healthy.
That means Green Bay has four quality starters on their offensive line, the question is can Tretter become the fifth?
The Packers obviously believe so or they would have worked harder to keep last season’s starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith. But they didn’t and that shows how much they believe in Tretter, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 Draft out of Cornell.
At Cornell, Tretter was a left tackle and at 6-4, 305-pounds, he possess the size, athleticism and smarts coaches dream about in a center. Dietrich-Smith was a scrapper and he got the job done but he will always be undersized and not athletic enough. Dietrich-Smith was serviceable and held his own but his long-term upside was limited, which is why the reigns are being handed over to Tretter.
Unfortunately, Tretter never got the chance to show what he could do as a rookie thanks a broken ankle he suffered during OTA’s last summer. Yet, the Packers thought enough of him to bring him off the physically unable to perform list and onto the active roster at the end of the season to give him reps at center in practice. He would not play or even dress for a game but those weeks of practice gave the coaching staff an invaluable opportunity to evaluate him and it turns out they liked what they saw.
After years of struggling to run the football consistently, the Packers offensive line help trigger a resurgent run game that ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in yards per carry. A lot of the success can be attributed to Eddie Lacy and James Starks, but the offensive line also came into it’s own, relishing the opportunity to establish a dominant running game for once.
With four solid starters already in place, the Packers have the chance to field one of the best offensive lines in pro football this season. The only missing piece is at center, where the Packers will begin the season with a different starter for the fourth straight season. Yet, if the second-year man from Cornell has anything to say about it, the starting center position in Green Bay is about to locked down long-term and if he does prove to be worthy, then the Packers may have their best offensive line in a decade.