Corey Linsley Becomes Center of Attention for Good Reason
24 Nov 2014
Minneapolis — As the coaches' video of the Green Bay-Philadelphia game rolled on, Larry McCarren finally took a pause in his breakdown of Corey Linsley.

"There's no mystery to it," McCarren said in that familiar growl of his. "At the end of the day, the kid's a damn good player."

McCarren has spent a lifetime playing and now analyzing pro football. He was a Big Ten center at Illinois just as Linsley was many years later at Ohio State.

They're both Midwesterners, a half-inch one way or another of 6 feet 3 inches. They exemplify offensive-line tough.

One remembers McCarren stomping around the Packers locker room chewing out lazy teammates and reporters alike. "The Rock" didn't tolerate fools. Few players in Green Bay have been more intense.

It never came up in the 2½-hour tape session at midweek, but it's likely McCarren can see some of himself in Linsley 40 years later.

Ted Thompson drafted five players ahead of Linsley. If the Packers had known in May what they know now, they would have been justified selecting Linsley in the first round instead of the fifth.

Until JC Tretter suffered major knee damage Aug. 22 in the third exhibition game, Linsley hadn't even taken a snap with the No. 1 offense.

Three months later, Linsley already ranks among the top half of the 32 starting centers, according to a pair of executives in personnel for NFC teams.

"When I started watching him at the beginning of the year, I thought this was going to be a new guy that would struggle," said one pro scout. "I don't see that.

"He's quick enough to clean things up in the middle like a good center does. He's got enough to anchor when he needs to. You don't see his man at the ball a lot. He's got to be a competitive kid. He works hard at what he does. He works his feet, fights to the finish. I think he's really tough.

"I like him better than any center Green Bay has had in recent years. There's a lot of trash in this league. I would think he's top 10, maybe 10 or 12."

The Packers, said another personnel man, "have their guy forever. Seriously. He'll never give that position back. Hell of a pick."

Before we rejoin McCarren and the video, here's what some others have been saying about the unassuming Linsley:

Retired general manager Ron Wolf, in late August: "He's phenomenal."

Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot, a starting center for three teams from 1992-'03: "It (Linsley's impact) is completely understated. He's quite strong. He plays a good leverage game. In our offense you have to be very smart to play center. It's really remarkable and probably very underrated."

Guard T.J. Lang: "The level he's playing at has been probably the highest we've ever had from that position since I've been a starter. Scott (Wells) was a very strong player who knew how to use leverage, and Corey does the same thing."

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements, an 18-year NFL assistant, when asked if he had been around a better center: "We had a good center at Pittsburgh. Jeff Hartings. He went to the Pro Bowl a couple times. Corey's played very well."

Now here are a few facts and figures:

■ Linsley weighed 296 at the combine, 301 a week later at pro day and is 300 now. In Indianapolis, he measured 6-25/8; he was 6-2¾ in Columbus.

■ Of the 12 centers at the combine, his 32-inch arms (31¾ at pro day) were the second shortest.

■ In two attempts at the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test, Linsley improved from 29 to 33 (the NFL average is between 19 and 20).

■ Of the 40 offensive linemen that bench-pressed 225 pounds at the combine, Linsley tied for second with 36 reps.

■ Seven rookies currently are starting at center. Linsley's 40-yard dash time of 5.07 seconds was the fastest of the group.

■ According to STATS, Linsley is the only center that has started more than seven games and hasn't been charged with a sack.

Based on Journal Sentinel records, Linsley's total of 3½ pressures (total of sacks, knockdowns and hurries) is the lowest on the offensive line. His total of 5½ "bad" runs ranks second behind right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who has allowed three.

■ Linsley has been called for two penalties.

McCarren didn't have any interest in the quantitative approach to line play during a 12-year career for the Packers in which he was elected to the Pro Bowl in 1982 and '83. He might have less now as analyst on the team's radio network and as a Green Bay sportscasting institution for a quarter century.

He deals in the qualitative, and few former players at any level of the media world are better at it. Not only is McCarren a student of the game, he surely could have enjoyed a successful NFL coaching career.

Each week, McCarren studies video of the Packers game and of their next opponent.

As McCarren watches each snap by Linsley against the Eagles, his stream of consciousness reflects someone who remembered oh so well trying to make those same blocks a generation ago.

The Eagles ran stunts out of their 3-4 defense three times in a row on the first series. They kept slanting defensive end Cedric Thornton into Linsley's right hip as another defensive lineman wheeled behind and tried to get by Lang.

"That's a hard stunt," McCarren said. "It's happening a mile a minute. Veterans don't react to things like this. Corey was a little bit high on him initially, but then he got his hands back underneath and reset and was fine."

On the next series, Eddie Lacy tried a shotgun draw just to the left of where Linsley was engaged one-on-one with 333-pound nose tackle Beau Allen.

"Allen is just sitting there and you've got to take him out of the play," McCarren said. "That's not a good thing in draw-action.

"Against less strong men, Allen will slide off and make the tackle for like no gain. Corey ends up putting him on the ground and Lacy falls forward for 3.

"He doesn't look all that different from a lot of guys but he is a powerful man. Corey is stronger than an ox."

At the Eagle 16, the Packers tossed to Lacy as Linsley ran to the right latched on against Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox, its best defensive lineman. The gain was 10.

"With Corey's strength and pressure on him, 91 (Cox) just can't get off and get away," McCarren said. "Part of it is working to finish everything. He's not content. He plays like his job is done when my man is on the ground. It's just not grabbing and holding on. He's driving him."

Green Bay began another drive with a pass in which Linsley was the uncovered blocker. Linsley swiveled his neck left and right. Lang was one-on-one with Thornton when the rookie came over and shoved the 309-pound veteran onto his back.

"Look," McCarren said. "He's got his helmet buried under the guy's chin. It's the kind of play that can take the starch out of somebody. You can look at a lot of film and not see that. That's like an old-time hit."

On another pass, left guard Josh Sitton immediately left Linsley to assist left tackle David Bakhtiari just as Lang charged right to give double-team help for Bulaga.

"They let (Linsley) go one-on-one," McCarren said. "To do that you've got to have a center who can one-on-one pass pro. A lot of teams have got to scheme it to give the center help."

It was the same protection call a few plays later with Linsley in one-on-one protection against Bennie Logan, a short but active nose tackle.

"Corey's in some trouble here," McCarren said. "(Logan) has an edge on him. But, by working to finish, he gets 96 (Logan) on the ground. It wasn't squeaky clean but that's football."

When the Packers start running the ball to salt away the victory, Linsley had some rough spots. He called it his poorest game of the year from a mental standpoint; Detroit was his worst from a physical standpoint.

"He relies on quickness and good angles in the run game," another NFC scout said. "He can position in line but has short arms. Not overly powerful. He's just an undersized guy who's tough, smart and quick."

Mike Trgovac, the Packers' defensive line coach, has made a living studying offensive linemen. Like McCarren, Trgovac hasn't seen a center this season whose performance jumps off the tape as special.

Dermontti Dawson, the Hall of Fame center for Pittsburgh from 1988-'00, represents the gold standard for Trgovac. The crème de la crème for McCarren is Dwight Stephenson, the Miami Hall of Famer who played from 1980-'87.

In preparing for Green Bay's opponents, McCarren studied former Pro Bowl centers Max Unger of the Seahawks, Nick Mangold of the Jets and Ryan Kalil of the Panthers.

"I haven't seen one guy I thought, 'Boy, I would take him over Linsley,'" he said. "When you think about it, what could that guy do that Linsley doesn't do?

"Can he pass protect one-on-one? Yeah. Can he move a nose one on one? Does he work to finish? Yeah.

"Does he have the brains for the job? Yeah. Is he a good kid? Yeah. I want to know where this guy is lacking? He isn't."

McCarren said it was too long ago for him to compare Mark Koncar, the Packers' season-long starter at left tackle in 1976, with Linsley.

The key rookie starters in my years on the beat, and their final first-year grades, were left tackle Ross Verba (B) in 1997, left tackle Chad Clifton (B) in 2000, right tackle Mark Tauscher (B-minus) in 2000, left guard Daryn Colledge (C) in 2006, Bulaga (C) in 2010 and Bakhtiari (C-plus) last year.

Linsley has six regular-season games and a potential playoff run ahead. So far, both his all-around game and consistency have been a revelation.

This post was written by sports

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