GREEN BAY - Something needed to be done. After lingering ankle and hamstring injuries cost Corey Linsley 10 games between the 2015-16 seasons, the Packers center finally underwent surgery last spring to clean everything up.
And boy did it.
Linsley not only started all 16 games for Green Bay last season, but he also was one of two dozen NFL players to play every snap on his side of the ball. All 1,047 of them.
The fifth-year center didn’t enter the 2017 season with the sole intention of going wire-to-wire, but his presence was vital to an offense that played without Aaron Rodgers for half the season and featured nine different starting offensive linemen.
Linsley was the line’s cornerstone in communication and operated for most of the season without a safety net. His primary backup, Justin McCray, made eight spot starts at right tackle and left guard, while Green Bay’s third option, Lucas Patrick, finished the season with a club on his injured hand.
It wasn’t until the Packers signed Dillon Day off Denver’s practice squad on Dec. 20 that Green Bay had a bona fide center on the active roster other than Linsley.
“I was just excited because I didn’t have anything unfortunate happen,” Linsley said. “I’m excited this year because I get a full offseason and I didn’t have to worry about an injury for the first time in like three years, which is good. Now, I have to take it on the field.”
Stability at center is critical for NFL offenses. It’s why Aaron Rodgers expressed desire in 2013 to get on a run with one center after cycling through Jason Spitz, Scott Wells, Jeff Saturday and Evan Smith during his first five years as an NFL starting quarterback.
Green Bay anticipated JC Tretter would be the answer, but when a knee injury landed him on injured reserve a week before the start of the 2014 season, it was Linsley who rose to the occasion.
Linsley started all 18 games during the team’s run to the NFC Championship Game and didn’t miss a single snap that rookie season. He’s started 43 NFL games since for 61 starts total (including playoffs).
The Packers rewarded Linsley for his consistency in the days leading up to last year’s regular-season finale in Detroit with a contract extension that keeps the former fifth-round pick in Green Bay for the foreseeable future.
It was the first time the Packers had signed a center to a long-term deal since former general manager Ted Thompson extended Wells in November 2006. While Linsley appreciates the gesture, he also understands the responsibility that accompanies a second contract.
“It’s still year in and year out. You’ve still got to prove yourself every year,” Linsley said. “It’s another step you’ve got to live up to. I was obviously excited about it but now it’s about living up to that and helping this team win a championship.”
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Participation in the offseason program is one thing Linsley feels will help him ascend to that level, especially after having to sit out the past two years due to injuries.
While Lane Taylor’s absence due to an ankle injury and an unsettled right guard position have changed the scenery around Linsley, he has enjoyed working alongside McCray and Patrick during most of the offseason program.
“We have a lot of guys who played in a lot of different positions last year,” Linsley said. “The right guard spot, Justin has been running with it right now and he’s obviously been a heck of a player. He played that last year. We have a lot of guys who have shown themselves in games last year and now have to take the next step.”
Linsley sat out of the Packers’ third public OTA practice on Monday to give his back a rest, but otherwise has felt great all spring. He isn’t making any bold predictions about whether or not he could start all 16 games or play every offensive snap again, but he relishes being a fixture on the field every Sunday.
Knock on wood, Linsley hopes to do it again in 2018.
“Part of it is luck, man,” Linsley said. “Who would have thought Joe Thomas would have torn his triceps and miss the first snap in however many years? Is it because he’s not tough? No. It just happens.
“I’m glad that I did, because you always want to be out there with your guys, but I think that’s the goal every year."