Evan Dietrich-Smith is the most valuable of reserve offensive linemen. He's the next man up in a game that can chew up offensive linemen and devastate an offense, particularly the quarterback that depends on his linemen for protection.
Such was the case in last Thursday's preseason opener. Starting left tackle Marshall Newhouse was sidelined by a concussion, and the effects of Newhouse's absence were noticeable. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers struggled to find time to throw.
Had it been a regular-season game, starting left guard T.J. Lang might've moved over one spot to left tackle, and Evan Dietrich-Smith would've stepped in at guard, just as he did in Detroit last season, when Dietrich-Smith gained national fame for becoming the man who pushed Ndamukong Suh over the edge.
Beginning with that infamous Thanksgiving Day game, Dietrich-Smith's career came to life. He followed with the first start of his career, and was part of a line that gave Rodgers the protection he needed to throw for 369 yards and four touchdowns in a rousing win over the Giants. Dietrich-Smith started at right guard again a week later against the Raiders, then moved to center later in the game. Against the Bears on Christmas Day, he was the Packers' starter at left guard.
A star was born, which brought into sharp focus the humble beginnings of Dietrich-Smith's professional football career.
He signed with the Packers as an undrafted player. Coming out of Idaho State, Dietrich-Smith couldn't find an agent willing to represent him.
"I had like three guys tell me to get lost," he said.
The Packers cut him, the Seahawks signed him, the Seahawks cut him, and then Dietrich-Smith had an epiphany.
"I was between places, so I ended up moving back to California. I had a workout in Miami. It was a day after I had my daughter. That's when I realized I had to start working harder," he said.
Newborns can have that kind of effect on fathers.
"I went to take a test so I could be a substitute teacher," Dietrich-Smith recalled. "After getting cut by Seattle, I wanted to tank it a little bit. I knew I needed to do more so the next time I got an opportunity I'd be in the best shape. I was fortunate enough to land back here."
He was also fortunate that a scheduled workout for the Jets was canceled by a snowstorm. Had he made it to New York for that workout, he might've been offered a contract by the Jets. A few days after the Jets workout was canceled, the Packers called.
From all of that chaos and uncertainty, Dietrich-Smith has carved out a career that has a future to it. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following this season, which means Dietrich-Smith is nearing the day when an undrafted player might join the upper ranks of the NFL payroll.
"I'm playing in the NFL, dream come true," he joked of the innocence with which a rookie enters the league. "Then you get the business end of that dream and it's not fun. You realize it's cut-throat. It's a job."
His job is to be ready to play at a moment's notice, at either guard position or center. The Packers' penchant for cross-training their linemen all but assures that an injury to one of the starters would send Dietrich-Smith into the pressure cooker.
"Just become a starter; that's what I want to do. I want to show I can play with everybody else. I felt last year I was able to show I could play with the best of them," he said.
"You have to keep doing this," he added, gesturing in an upward direction. "You have to keep improving every day." Related links