Starter (B): Corey Linsley returned from a hamstring injury just in time to rescue the Packers. The former Buckeye moved off the PUP list and into the starting lineup in week 10 after JC Tretter suffered a sprained knee. The O-line didn’t miss a beat. Linsey played at a near Pro Bowl level, using his great strength to neutralize huge nose tackles and his understanding of angles and positioning to hold his own against quicker athletes. At just over 300 pounds, he still gets rocked back on occasion, but that happens far less frequently now.
Depth (D+): No team was deeper at center than the Packers last season, but that won’t be the case in 2017. With Tretter now in Cleveland, the backup figures to be Don Barclay, who has never taken a snap at the position in a regular season game. On a postiive note, the versatile veteran from West Virginia did show some potential last August. And while he lacks the physical skills to ever be an above-average center, that hasn’t kept former Packer Evan Dietrich-Smith from forging a long career in the National Football League. Look for Jacob Flores to push Barclay in the coming months. The undrafted rookie from Dartmouth did some decent things in training camp before spending the entire ’16 season on the practice squad.
Player to watch: Flores has a chance to surprise if he used the past 12 months to get bigger and stronger. The barely 300-pounder was overpowered too often last summer, but to his credit, he never backed down and he got a little better each day. And while he’s nowhere near as athletic or as talented as the former Ivy League offensive lineman who just left (Tretter), he’s every bit as bright and as scrappy – two things the coaches obviously like in their centers. Flores is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster, but not quite as much of one as you might think.
*Level of need: With both Linsley and Barclay eligible for unrestricted free agency after the upcoming season, it would make sense for Thompson to draft someone who can play center. But this is not a position of great need right now. Linsley is a very good starter, and as much as fans cringe when they see Barclay enter a game at tackle or even guard, he should be a halfway decent backup.