In a somewhat surprising move, Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced Friday that Evan Dietrich-Smith would “probably” start at center for Sunday's game against the Titans, replacing veteran Jeff Saturday, who has been struggling with a neck/shoulder injury all week.
“I've got to visit with Jeff," McCarthy said. "He's been going through a number of things. We feel good about his health, but we haven't made a final decision. I feel like I say this every week, that's what the 1 o'clock meeting is for.”
Despite McCarthy's evasiveness, the players in question made it clear who had gotten the nod.
"As a player, it's always disappointing whenever someone else goes in front of you," Saturday said. "It's a tough thing to deal with, but I'm going to deal with it. Here's the one thing -- I can look at my family and I can look at all my players and say, 'I've put the best I can be out there.' So if that's not good enough and someone is better, they deserve to play."
Dietrich-Smith started a couple of games at guard as an injury replacement earlier in the season. Both he and McCarthy have said his best position is center and QB Aaron Rodgers called him the team's center of the future. He's a more physical, more gritty lineman and, at age 26, a better athlete.
“They feel this is the best option for them," Dietrich-Smith said. "We're going to go out there and do what we need to do to win football games. (If) this is how they want to go, then this is how we're going to roll with it.
When asked the difference between the two positions he's played, Dietrich-Smith said: “You're just a little more in charge (at center than at guard). You're in charge of the tempo, pressing the huddle, getting to the line, getting set, but I think we're all on the same page as far as that goes."
Saturday is a 14-year veteran who spent a decade in Indianapolis snapping for Colts QB Peyton Manning before signing a two-year deal with Green Bay in the offseason. He was signed to bring signal-caller savvy and an astute mind, but also brought deteriorating physical skills, especially as a run blocker.
Saturday said he understands that, depending on Dietrich-Smith's performance, his time as a starter may be over.
"Obviously you're giving (another) guy a chance to start," Saturday said. "So, obviously, I'm a stop gap here. There's no surprise as far as that stuff goes. You're 37 years old. I've been around long enough to know that it's not a long future. But, no, I think if 'Dietey' plays well, I don't think they'd go back and make another change. So that's how I look at it.
"We're at two totally different points in our career. His is on the up ramp, mine is on the way out. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't disappointing and tough," Saturday added. "I'm here to play football. I told Coach, 'I came here to help win a Super Bowl.' Winning the NFC North is great but that isn't why I was here. I looked for more in the postseason so it's disappointing from that side.”
Both players came into the NFL as undrafted free agents. While Saturday went on to make five Pro Bowl teams, this is Dietrich-Smith's first real opportunity to prove himself at his best position and make a case for the full-time job in 2013.
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As always, Saturday was classy and level-headed about the change.
"Coach McCarthy makes a decision, and as a player you're one guy on the team," he said. "So whatever decision is made, you support what happens. I've got a ton of respect for 'Dietey.' He and I have worked together. I think he'll do a good job."
The always understated Dietrich-Smith, who struggled with penalties and erratic play filling in at left guard, was diplomatic and professional in discussing his promotion.
“It's obviously an honor. I've got a lot of respect for Jeff,” he said. “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.”
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter: @CBSPackers and @jimmycarlton88.