Packers: Welcome back, Tretter
GREEN BAY — Given their colorful personalities, you could easily see Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang in the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. They’d have made pretty good Sweathogs.
Heck, Sitton even had to joke about his left big toe injury and Lang’s ankle injury, which are significant enough that one or both of them may miss Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
“I feel like we always get sympathy pains for each other. He hurts an ankle, I hurt a foot,” Sitton said Wednesday of his O-line BFF. “He needs to stay healthy, dammit.”
What the Packers need, if one or both of them can’t go against the Bears, is help at guard. Even coach Mike McCarthy, who is loath to publicly criticize a player, said Wednesday of Lane Taylor, who took over for Lang against New Orleans on Oct. 26, “He needs to perform better. He knows that. New Orleans was not his best night.”
That’s why quarterback Aaron Rodgers might as well have stood at his locker Wednesday and started singing the old show’s theme song to JC Tretter, who’s returning from the injured reserve/designated to return list just in time to possibly see his first NFL regular-season action after losing his starting job at center to a preseason knee injury.
Who’d have thought Tretter’s circuitous route to his first NFL regular-season game would lead him here, to guard?
“He’s a smart guy. He’s very detailed in his preparation. He’s a guy who can play all five positions,” Rodgers said of Tretter on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com on Tuesday. “He played tackle in college, and obviously he proved in the preseason he can play center. [We’ll] see if we might work him in there at guard, possibly.”
Tretter, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken ankle suffered during the first organized team activity practice of the offseason while working in a fumble-recovery drill, had won Rodgers’ confidence – no easy task – over the spring and summer, was set to be the team’s fourth opening-day starter at center in as many years after getting all the work with the starters throughout camp and the first three preseason games. Then he suffered an impaction fracture in his left knee during an Aug. 22 preseason game against Oakland and wound up on the temporary IR list.
While he was out, rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley has played so well at center that it became clear that Tretter wouldn’t be getting his starting job back upon his return. Instead, he appeared ticketed for the sixth-man job that was supposed to be Don Barclay’s this season, until Barclay suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in training camp.
Given that the Packers have lost just one starting game to injury on the offensive line – right tackle Bryan Bulaga sat out their Week 2 win over the New York Jets with a knee injury – Tretter figured to be waiting a while for his regular-season debut. Now, at the very least, he’ll be active for the first time on Sunday night.
“It’ll be nice. It’s been a long time coming,” Tretter said Wednesday. “Whatever happens, I’m hoping T.J. and Josh are back. I’m hoping they’re a 100 percent tomorrow. So whether it’s me just standing on the sidelines or me playing, I’m just excited to be back in the fold.
“The team needs me to do whatever they need, and I’ll be there for them and I’ll be more than willing.”
The Packers coaching staff is clearly confident that Tretter can play anywhere on the line, having cut 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod – instead of No. 3 center Garth Gerhart – to make room for Tretter on the 53-man roster. Sherrod was the Packers’ lone tackle behind Bulaga and starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, although head coach Mike McCarthy disputed that Wednesday.
“I disagree with that. You just look at the philosophy of how we draft offensive linemen. Just about every one of them has played tackle in college,” McCarthy said. “I’m not concerned about that. Who’s going to pop out and play there, I’m not really worried about it because we’ve been repping different combinations. This is something we’ve planned for and I feel like we have a good plan.”
Tretter explained to reporters Wednesday that he only played two positions in college at Cornell – tight end, and tackle. (He played quarterback and defensive end in high school.)
Although he projected as a center or guard in the NFL, he spent his medical redshirt season learning all the line positions, and upon his return to practice two weeks ago, he began taking snaps at all the various positions. Tretter said he hadn’t taken snaps at tackle since he was a rookie fourth-round pick at the team’s post-draft rookie orientation camp.
Now, he might be counted on to play not only in his first NFL game that actually counts, but do so at a position he’s never played. What a turn of events for a guy who lost his starting job before he could even take a snap there.
“I’ve said it before: Nothing at this level is given to you. It’s earned. I didn’t expect anything to be given,” Tretter said. “It’s about crawling back and just fighting and doing everything the team needs to help this team win. That’s what it’s all about. I’m not down or disappointed. There’s new opportunities coming and it’s about going out and winning on Sundays.
“I think [versatility] is an important quality of mine, being able to move around. Whatever the team needs, whatever position the team has an opening or has a need, I’m more than willing to fill it. That’s all I can do.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
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