Corey Linsley was ready. Agent Bill Conaty had prepared his client for the unpredictable nature of the NFL Draft. But he didn’t want Linsley to have a distorted view of reality, so Conaty told him he was a third-day pick.
Thursday and Friday still included tense moments. Saturday, though, was filled with angst and anticipation. As centers were being picked more often than quarterbacks, Linsley’s name never flashed across the TV. Conaty assured him his time was coming.
“My agent said it was good that centers were flying off the board,” Linsley said. “I was disappointed, but it all worked out in the end.”
Finally, in the fifth round – pick No. 161 – Linsley’s phone rang showing the area code for Green Bay, 920. He knew exactly what it meant.
“Everyone in tears. I was excited,” he said on the phone from Green Bay.
Everyone would be mom, dad, girlfriend, grandparents – all the important people in Linsley’s life that saw him go from youth football to high school to college. The franchises he spoke to most frequently passed on him. Linsley never expected the Packers to be his destination.
That the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder would be drafted seemed far-fetched as recently as two years ago. Sure, Linsley came to Ohio State as a hotshot recruit. But he was suspended during part of a forgettable 2011 season and his future was unknown when Urban Meyer was hired. But it became apparent early on that Linsley was determined to leave his demons behind.
Ohio State went 24-2 in his final two seasons, and he started all 26 games at center. He was an All-Big Ten performer, senior captain and vital in the Buckeyes’ record-setting offense. Still, it all becomes irrelevant during draft season.
“It’s been a lot more stressful than [recruiting]. Nobody needs you. It’s not like recruiting. They can find a guy anytime,” Linsley said. “But it brings out the best in you talent-wise because it forces you to push yourself to improve in areas where you have deficiencies. I’m just glad the waiting game is over. Now, it’s like I’m trying to get a job. The stress is still there, though, for sure.”
Linsley will compete with J.C. Tretter and Garth Gerhart for the starting center position. Tretter has been in the league for one season and Gerhart is a practice squad player. Whoever wins the starting job will be Green Bay’s fourth center in as many seasons.
Center is becoming a more important position in an era of complex offenses and defenses – Linsley was the sixth out of 10 drafted. At Ohio State, Linsley proved he was adept at being the quarterback of the offensive line. Alert and observant centers are what NFL coaches desire.
“Anybody you talk to at Ohio State and the reputation he has there, and just the way he plays, it will be good just to have a natural center come in and play that position,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I view him as a center. I know we historically move our guys around, but I think it’s important for him to come in and play center.”
A deep knowledge of the game and the ability to make calls at the line of scrimmage made Linsley a sure-fire draft pick. He also possesses brute strength. At the NFL combine, he benched 225 pounds 36 times, one of the top performances by an offensive lineman.
“I love his toughness, what he brings,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “He really is what you’re looking for from a mental standpoint. He’s very physical. He goes after people. Tempo-setter. He plays a physical brand of football.”
The No. 63 jersey Linsley dons for the Packers won’t be the first time he’s worn green and gold. At the age of six, he dressed up as Brett Favre for Halloween.
“Ever since then, I’ve always liked them,” Linsley said.
He even owns a cheesehead. Not only is he playing for his favorite childhood team, Linsley also joins a Super Bowl contender with one of the best quarterbacks in football. But he cautioned that he can’t get ahead of himself with visions of snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers. First comes hard work.
“I’m nowhere near that point. I really can’t think about anything other than improving myself. I have to continue to earn a spot to even get on the field,” Linsley said. “You can tell after one workout that these guys all commit themselves to excellence. Some of the best football players in the NFL are in that facility day in and day out. It’s definitely daunting, but it’s extremely exciting to be a part of.”
In many ways, it’s as if Linsley never left Youngstown or Columbus. Green Bay is the blue-collar capital of professional football and the city is the closest thing to a college atmosphere in the NFL.
“I couldn’t be in a better place than here,” Linsley said. “The offensive line here are awesome dudes. Everyone on the team seems real cool. It just seems like an awesome place to be. I haven’t earned my spot here or earned my keep, but this is definitely a place I want to be a part of.”