Aaron Rodgers’ veteran center is officially back in business.
The Green Bay Packers activated Corey Linsley from injured reserve on Saturday afternoon after the 29-year-old center spent most of December out of the lineup with a knee injury. He is expected to return to his starting role — which Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins has held down in his absence — against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night.
The Packers also elevated defensive lineman Brian Price and running back Dexter Williams from the practice squad to their game-day roster and signed a backup punter, Ryan Winslow, for playoff insurance. Tight end Dax Raymond was released from the practice squad to clear room for Winslow.
Linsley sustained an MCL sprain in Week 12’s win over the Chicago Bears and missed three games, but his return now brings the Packers’ offensive line back to full strength with two games left to tune-up for the postseason. He had been Pro Football Focus‘ highest-graded NFL center prior to his injury and remains the fourth-best pass-blocking center with a 96% win rate, per ESPN’s metrics.
Honesty, no Corey Linsley( @Linsley71 )??? The selection process is flawed. Best year by him and is the best center in the league. I hope you get the All-Pro instead (been there)… It’s just sad when someone doesn’t get the recognition they deserve.
— David Bakhtiari (@DavidBakhtiari) December 22, 2020
No corresponding moves were necessary for Linsley’s activation, as the Packers had been leaving their active roster at 52 players in preparation for his return.
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Which O-Line Combo Will Packers Pick?
The Packers aren’t just getting back an All-Pro-caliber center with Linsley’s return. They are also regaining the freedom to mix and match their offensive line based on matchups along with some renewed confidence in their rotational pieces.
Without Linsley, the Packers had slid Jenkins over to center, flipped Billy Turner from right tackle back to right guard — where he played all of 2019 — and promoted Rick Wagner to fill the available tackle spot. The combination (mostly) worked in terms of protection with the exception of a lousy, five-sacks-allowed outing against Carolina last week, but there is no question someone will be demoted now that Linsley is available again.
The question is which starter will get the boot: Wagner at right tackle or Lucas Patrick at right guard?
Patrick has started all 14 games for the Packers this season and played at a mixture of right and left guard, the latter mostly during the past three games while covering for Jenkins’ emergency switch to center. Unfortunately, his quality has been shotty at times on both sides with a particularly bad performance against the Panthers raising questions about whether the Packers would be better off sticking with Jenkins/Turner as their guards and Wagner at right tackle.
Wagner has certainly made a good case over the past three weeks to remain in the starting lineup moving forward. Despite playing every single offensive snap since getting his promotion, he has still only allowed one sack on the entire year. If there are genuine concerns about Patrick’s abilities from the coaching staff, Wagner and his veteran background might provide them with more stability.
Winslow Bolsters Packers’ Special Teams
The Packers added a specialist to their practice squad for the second time this week when they signed Winslow on Saturday, positioning him as JK Scott’s backup in the event they needed a short-notice replacement for him. They also signed JJ Molson to the practice squad on Dec. 22 as a second option behind veteran kicker Mason Crosby.
Winslow, who worked out with the Packers in Week 15, has attempted six punts over two games in his three-year NFL career, but he averaged 48.5 yards with a long boot of 55 during his brief time on the Arizona Cardinals’ active roster in 2019. He also averaged 47.1 yards on 32 punts while playing in the now-defunct AAF.