Most Important Packers: No. 16 -- Evan Dietrich-Smith
JUN 24, 2013 5:00a ET
Note: This is not a list of the team's 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player's position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
NO. 16 -- EVAN DIETRICH-SMITH, CENTER
AGE / EXPERIENCE
26 (will turn 27 before training camp opens) / Fifth NFL season
WHY HE'S NO. 16
Dietrich-Smith has earned the opportunity to go into training camp as the Packers' clear-cut starting center. However, that doesn't mean he shouldn't take Aaron Rodgers out for a thank-you dinner. It was Rodgers who publicly endorsed Dietrich-Smith on many occasions last season, which perhaps put it into the minds of Green Bay's front office and coaching staff who he wanted to be taking snaps from in 2013.
This is the same player who the Packers released in 2010. Green Bay isn't usually too quick to give up on young players, but at the time, Dietrich-Smith's future wasn't going to be with the Packers. After being picked up by the Seattle Seahawks and released soon after, Dietrich-Smith spent several months as a free agent. Late in the 2010 season, though, Green Bay re-signed Dietrich-Smith.
Now, after two years as a backup interior offensive lineman, Dietrich-Smith has been given a shot by coach Mike McCarthy -- perhaps due to the coaxing of Rodgers, perhaps not -- to be a full-time starter.
Dietrich-Smith is No. 16 in this series because the Packers are now counting on him to perform at the level of a starter for a Super Bowl-caliber team. Green Bay decided not to draft a center such as Wisconsin's Travis Frederick or Alabama's Barrett Jones, which puts even more importance on Dietrich-Smith having a good season.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013
The biggest expectation on Dietrich-Smith in training camp is that he quickly shows why the Packers put so much faith in him.
It was apparent late last season that McCarthy thought Dietrich-Smith could get the job done in a tough spot. As Jeff Saturday's struggles continued, McCarthy benched the veteran (who's now retired) and put in Dietrich-Smith in Week 16. Two regular-season starts and two postseason starts produced average results from Dietrich-Smith. There were no serious errors as he and Rodgers worked well together. But, while he was an upgrade over Saturday at the time, Dietrich-Smith will need to take a step forward in his development in 2013.
Dietrich-Smith wasn't a prized prospect like first-round pick Bryan Bulaga. Dietrich-Smith wasn't drafted and had to work hard just to convince Green Bay to give him a second chance in 2010. Now that he's earned a starting job, there's little reason to believe that Dietrich-Smith's work ethic won't continue to stay strong. But the Packers didn't part ways with him three years ago without good cause. While much of what Dietrich-Smith did poorly back then has seemingly been corrected, it's a tough spot to be in with so much more expected of him now.
A successful season from Dietrich-Smith would include 16 productive starts. Communication with Rodgers shouldn't be a factor, but Dietrich-Smith has a lot to prove as the least experienced starter on Green Bay's offensive line.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
There can't be any doubt in the minds of the Packers' coaching staff that Dietrich-Smith is the answer in 2013 as the starting center. The options behind him on the depth chart are very limited.
Green Bay drafted JC Tretter in the fourth round and it seemed as if the plan was to make him the top backup at all three interior offensive line positions, including center. However, Tretter broke his ankle during offseason training activities and will be sidelined until at least midseason.
If Dietrich-Smith gets injured, the Packers would likely turn to Greg Van Roten, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent last season. Starting at center and working with Rodgers in a very important role would be asking a lot of the young and very inexperienced Van Roten, which adds to just how crucial Dietrich-Smith will be to whether Green Bay has a successful 2013 season.
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