|Evan Dietrich-Smith has made a smooth transition to center, where he's replaced Jeff Saturday. (US Presswire)|
In the 16th week of the regular season, the Packers made a major change at one of the most important positions on the team.
|The home of the Super Bowl|
They swapped old out for new, fresh physicality in favor of proven experience.
While both players entered the league as undrafted free agents, Saturday became a decorated, six-time Pro Bowler, including earning -- a largely reputation-based -- start for his 2012 season.
Dietrich-Smith, on the other hand, had been cut by the Packers once before.
Nevertheless, coach Mike McCarthy and his staff felt like they needed an upgrade, or at least a youthful infusion, on offense.
So, before the Packers' Dec. 23 game against the Titans, Dietrich-Smith was announced the starter. Saturday handled his demotion with class, saying he supported both the decision and Dietrich-Smith.
In the two games since, Dietrich-Smith has shown he's a competent replacement for the heady Saturday. He's capable as far as the mental rigors of the job and he's been a significant upgrade physically, especially in the run game.
“I think Evan's done a very good job,” McCarthy said Thursday. “Number one, with the management of it -- just the speed of getting the line set, the declarations and so forth -- that's been a seamless transition for us from Jeff.
“Physically, I think [Dietrich-Smith] has played well. He's able to do some things in the run game that we're doing more of right now. I've been pleased with the way he's played.”
Dietrich-Smith said Wednesday he feels comfortable at center, which teammates and coaches have called his best position. QB Aaron Rodgers has been in his corner for a while, publicly stating he believes Dietrich-Smith is the Packers' center of the future.
Now that the future has become the present, Rodgers is not worried.
"I have a lot of confidence in Evan," Rodgers said in mid-November, more than a month before Dietrich-Smith was named the starting center. "I think he's done a good job whenever he gets called on, whether it's center or guard. We believe he's going to be a big part of the future of the Packers' offensive line.”
Dietrich-Smith said he doesn't feel any extra pressure; his only concern is doing his job.
“If they're going to put me out there, they expect me to perform at a high level,” he said.
He's become very comfortable with the communication and organizational aspects of the job, pointing out that he's been making the calls at the center position during his practice reps since he got to Green Bay.
The one thing that's taken some time to develop is chemistry with the other linemen.
Saturday was instinctively in tune with his teammates. Dietrich-Smith said that understanding has been coming on lately and he's recognizing the individual nuances of the others.
“We're definitely starting to settle in there now,” he said. “[LG] T.J. (Lang) does certain things a little bit different than [RG] Josh [Sitton] does, and we all kind of have to play to our strengths. But when we're going a certain way in a protection or running a play a certain way – given how we fit with each other – that's starting to build really well.”
And through the transition of losing his job during a season in which he hoped to help the Packers to the Super Bowl, Saturday has remained a helpful and upstanding teammate.
“You have to give Jeff Saturday credit,” McCarthy said. “He's been a great big brother, a great veteran to Evan, and it's really paid off.”