Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy are bold, bold gamblers. While seemingly the whole world questions their decision to keep Mason Crosby as their kicker, the Green Bay Packers’ brain trust has made an even bolder move.
They’ve benched decorated veteran center Jeff Saturday.
Saturday was the only major veteran signing this offseason. Such is a rarity in the Thompson era, where aging veterans are shown the door in favor of younger, cheaper players like undrafted rookie free agents. Saturday’s replacement, Evan Dietrich-Smith, was one such player just a few years back.
As has been addressed before, this season is crucial for Dietrich-Smith. Saturday was only ever considered a one year band-aid for the Packers, and Dietrich-Smith has long been touted as the heir apparent. While his struggles this season at left guard were well documented, he is expected to perform much better at center, his natural position.
There’s reason to be skeptical of such a move, especially when it’s purely voluntary. The center is as integral as the quarterback reading defenses and spotting the Mike linebacker. For all of Saturday’s physical limitations, he possesses a sharp, conditioned football mind. Dietrich-Smith has impressed the coaches, but he’s never had the responsibilities of being the full time center.
Green Bay does have some success in this area, however. Much like Dietrich-Smith, Pro-Bowler Scott Wells was shifted around early in his career between center and guard. At one point, McCarthy even benched Wells for middling journeyman Jason Spitz. Eventually, Wells earned back the trust of the coaching staff and the respect of the league. He signed a lucrative five year deal to anchor the offensive line for St. Louis this offseason.
The coaches obviously believe Dietrich-Smith has that kind of potential. You don’t bench your starter for him otherwise. There are two games left in the regular season, and they both impact where the Packers will be seeded.
This is a big gamble for the Packers, one that’ll likely be dissected over and over the rest of the season.