GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Evan Dietrich-Smith would be perfectly fine if no one had ever heard of him.
In fact, the Green Bay Packers’ backup guard didn’t mind a bit when news reports referred to him simply as a “Packers lineman” who had his arm stomped by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on Thanksgiving Day.
“I had a million people calling me, ‘I just saw you on SportsCenter!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know,'” Dietrich-Smith said Thursday. “It’s not really cool to be famous for getting stepped on, but it doesn’t really matter to me.”
While Suh appealed his two-game suspension this week, Dietrich-Smith was in the news for a better reason.
With right guard Josh Sitton’s 48-game streak of consecutive starts set to end because of a knee injury, Dietrich-Smith will make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants as the Packers (11-0) take their undefeated record on the road.
“I thought he really competed hard. I was pleased,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said of Dietrich-Smith’s play against the Lions in relief of the injured Sitton. “He obviously did some things that need to be corrected, but he was aggressive. He played fast, (and) that was the one thing we were the most pleased with. He wasn’t hesitant, we didn’t sit around and go, ‘Oh me, oh my, we have to change this, we can’t do this.’ That’s probably the best tribute we can give to him.”
He also has the confidence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’ll be without 40 percent of his starting offensive line against the Giants with Sitton and veteran left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) also out.
Second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse has played well in Clifton’s place, and the expectations for Dietrich-Smith are for him to play like a regular starter. He has been working at all three interior line spots each week in practice as the primary backup to Sitton, left guard T.J. Lang and center Scott Wells.
“(I’m) very confident in Evan,” Rodgers said. “I think it helps that he has a center’s mindset when he goes in there, because he understands the calls that need to be made and can anticipate those calls from Scott. He’s a very strong and stout lineman. … I think when you lose a guy like Josh, who is just so consistent, so smart, so cerebral out on the field, you worry about who’s going to step in. But when you can add Evan in the mix, who sees the game as a center does, I think you can counterbalance some of the great attributes that Josh gives you by having Evan in there. So I’m excited about him.”
Dietrich-Smith made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent from Idaho State in 2009 and saw action in 14 games (including playoffs), almost exclusively on special teams. The following summer, he was beaten out for a roster spot by another undrafted free agent, Nick McDonald, and was among the Packers’ cuts at the end of training camp. He was released by Seattle in October and was out of football until the injury-depleted Packers re-signed him for the final week of the regular season and the playoffs last year.
This year in camp, he outperformed McDonald and won the final backup roster spot on the line. Rodgers said he “challenged” Dietrich-Smith in camp, and he responded.
“I think he’s a lot different this year. A whole lot,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “He was good the first time he came, but now I think he’s more . I don’t know, it’s like he’s out there trying to feed his family. He’s real serious. He worked extra hard this year. In camp, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t quit on blocks in practice. You’re like, ‘Dietrich, man, just hold up a little.’ He doesn’t listen to that. He just keeps going.”
While more confident, Dietrich-Smith admitted he’ll be nervous on Sunday. But with a week to prepare, he should be more ready for his role than he was when Sitton went down in Detroit.
“If you’re not nervous, then you obviously don’t care about your job,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I’m sure a lot of players would die to play on this team. You get these opportunities; you’ve got to take full advantage of them.”
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