Finally, a true center for the Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' last starting center was a left tackle in college. So was one of the leading contenders to replace him.

That's what makes rookie Corey Linsley so unusual – and so refreshing – at least for the Packers.

The fifth-round pick from Ohio State is a center prospect who actually played center.

"It's good to finally draft one that's played the position before," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after last weekend's draft. "We're all excited about that. I know [offensive line coach] James Campen's real excited."

Before general manager Ted Thompson picked Linsley at No. 161 overall in the draft, the Packers' leading candidate to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, was JC Tretter. A fourth-round pick last season, Tretter started at tackle for two years at Cornell after converting from tight end.

With Linsley, center is just about all he has known.

"I've felt at home at center since I got to Ohio State," Linsley said. "I always knew that was one of my better positions. Obviously, it took a little work for me to excel at the position. I've felt at home at center for a while."

After dabbling at guard and tackle early in his college career, the 6-foot-2, 296-pound native of Youngstown, Ohio, started 26 straight games at center for the Buckeyes over his final two seasons.

"He's a true center," said Linsley's agent, Bill Conaty.

Conaty should know. He spent nine seasons in the NFL as a center with the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals before getting his law degree and becoming an agent.

"He's an extremely smart player, and extremely strong," Conaty said of his client. "He's got great hands. That's one of the biggest things is his hands. He's got good, quick hands."

Linsley was the sixth of 10 centers selected in last weekend's draft, but only one of them – North Carolina's Russell Bodine (a fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals) – put up more reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine than Linsley. Bodine did 42 reps, six more than Linsley.

"I love his toughness, what he brings," said Campen, a former NFL center. "He really is what you're looking for from a mental standpoint. He's very physical. He goes after people, is a tempo-setter. He plays a physical brand of football."

Meanwhile, Tretter remains a bit of an unknown. He broke his ankle last May during an OTA practice and never took a single practice rep in training camp. He finally came off the physically unable to perform list on Dec. 10, although he did not play in any games.

In practice, he spent part of his time working at center for the first time in his playing career.

"When he came off of the PUP and was practicing, the majority of it obviously with the [scout] teams," Campen said. "He progressed every single week. That kid is a very headstrong kid, knows all the assignments and he's ready to go and compete. He wants to be the starting center also, just like everyone else does."

Campen and McCarthy will get their first extended look at their new center prospect on Friday morning, when the Packers begin their rookie orientation camp.

"It will be good just to have a natural center come in and play that position, and I view him as a center," McCarthy said. "I know we historically move our guys around, but I think it's important for him to come in and play center."