Packers Make Lineup Change At Center
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jeff Saturday has one Super Bowl ring and was looking forward to having a chance to play for another with the Green Bay Packers getting ready to return to the playoffs.
His role in helping the NFC North champions try to make a deep run in the postseason has changed before the playoffs even started.
Coach Mike McCarthy has decided to take Saturday, a 14-year veteran in his first season with the Packers, out of the starting lineup at center and replace him with Evan Dietrich-Smith with two games left in the regular season. Green Bay (10-4) hosts the Tennessee Titans (5-9) on Sunday.
Although Saturday has been coping with neck and shoulder injuries and didn't get on the practice field this week until the team held a short workout Friday, McCarthy indicated the late-season change isn't due to medical reasons. Saturday is probable for the game.
Saturday doesn't believe his recent health issues are a factor in the potential shake-up.
"I don't think so," he said. "I haven't been able to go this week, but when you look at it, I think Evan has worked hard, played good. Give him a chance to go see what he can do at center and see how he plays. I should be ready to go (Sunday), so I don't think that really has any kind of factor of what's happening."
Dietrich-Smith, 26, a third-year player, is 11 years younger than Saturday and has started only seven games as a pro. This would be Dietrich-Smith's first NFL start at center.
Conversely, Saturday has logged 220 starts (including the playoffs) and is a five-time Pro Bowler, most of his work coming at center with the Indianapolis Colts when Peyton Manning was the quarterback.
"It's obviously an honor," Dietrich-Smith said. "I've got a lot of respect for Jeff. I'm just going out there to help the team win as best I can, and this is the move they want to make. I'm just going to do my job."
Dietrich-Smith recently started four straight games for the Packers at left guard after they lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a season-ending hip injury and filled the void by moving left guard T.J. Lang outside. Lang suffered an ankle injury Dec. 2, missed the next game and was replaced at right tackle by undrafted rookie Don Barclay.
When Lang returned for Green Bay's division-clinching win at Chicago last Sunday, he was back at left guard, Barclay stayed at right tackle and Dietrich-Smith was back on the bench.
McCarthy said center is the best position for the versatile Dietrich-Smith, an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State in 2009. He started 44 games playing four different positions in college but never at center.
What Dietrich-Smith has going for him in getting the supposed starting nod at center is the support of Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay's quarterback made favorable comments about Dietrich-Smith earlier in the season, referring to him as the team's center of the future.
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