GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When David Bakhtiari limped to the sideline early in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against the Detroit Lions, a stark reality hit the Green Bay Packers: They were down to their last offensive lineman.
It wasn’t lost on the principals involved.
With right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard T.J. Lang inactive, the Packers went into the game with seven linemen -- the five starters plus backup center JC Tretter and reserve tackle Josh Walker. When center Corey Linsley reinjured his sprained ankle in the first half, they were down to six. When Bakhtiari’s right knee got rolled on and Walker replaced him at left tackle, that was it.
There were no more reinforcements available.
“I was thinking about it during the game,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Well s---, I can’t go down,’ and I was coming in to that game with problems myself. JC was like, ‘All right guys, it’s just us five the rest of the game, and we’ve got to grind this thing out.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess we do.’”
While Bakhtiari sat on the examination table and let team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie check out his knee, the reality of the situation hit him, too.
“I was like, ‘We’ve got no one, so I need to frickin’ be out there,’” Bakhtiari said. “I needed to get my knee looked at. I need to make sure it’s OK.”
Although Bakhtiari returned for the next series, there were several minutes during the game when many wondered if the Packers had an emergency offensive lineman ready just in case of another injury. Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t say who it was, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers perhaps inadvertently did so this week when he said, “At one point, we were kind of one injury away from Brett Goode being out there at emergency center for us.”
Goode might seem like a logical choice given his duties as the Packers’ long snapper, but he hardly fits the body type of an NFL offensive lineman. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds, he’s 2 inches shorter and 46 pounds lighter than Linsley.
"To even put him at center might be tough," outside linebacker Mike Neal said. “He’s what, 250? He might be lighter than that.”
For the record, Goode said he’s now up to 260. Yes, he can snap the ball, but he’s used to firing it back to Tim Masthay on punts and place kicks. He hasn’t played an offensive snap since high school, when he last played center.
“He could go out there and get in the way,” Sitton said. “It wouldn’t be fun. It wouldn’t be ideal, but we’d make it work.”
On the afternoon of the Lions game, Goode was summoned from his hotel room to go over some offensive plays just in case. With both Linsley and Tretter on the injury report, the Packers weren’t taking any chances.
“I wouldn’t be your ideal starting center,” Goode said. “But I would’ve gone out there and battled and done whatever I could do.”
Center would have been the only place for Goode. Had they needed a guard or tackle against the Lions, Tretter would have handed the ball over to Goode and bounced outside. In another possible scenario, the Packers might have used tight end Richard Rodgers as a weak-side blocking tackle or a defensive lineman at guard.
When asked about the possibility of a defensive player handling offensive line duties, Neal immediately suggested Julius Peppers.
At first, the 6-7 and 287-pound Peppers dismissed it as impossible. But on second thought, he reconsidered. After all, pass-rushers like him know the techniques that linemen use to block them.
“It would be reversing the technique,” Peppers said. “I go against them and I watch them all the time, so I’ve got a good feel for what they like to try to do. So if I had to go in there for a quarter or so, maybe I could hold it down for a little bit. But if we had to do that, we’d be in big trouble.”
Offensive line coach James Campen is part of the brain trust that comes up with the contingency situations, and he might be the perfect one to do it.
A center with the Saints and Packers from 1987-1993, Campen’s first NFL snap came on defense. Campen had yet to be active for a game as a rookie when the Saints had an illness sweep through the defensive line room. The Saints' defensive coaches gave Campen a crash course and sent him on to the field in a short-yardage situation. Campen said he stuffed Rams running back Charles White for a loss -- a story that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, then a Saints assistant, corroborated.
“My point is that we practice for that,” Campen said. “It’s something you prepare for.”