GREEN BAY – Evan Dietrich-Smith is one of the lucky ones.
Most undrafted rookies get one shot, and one shot only, to make it in the National Football League. Dietrich-Smith was given a second chance, and was able to take advantage of it.
Dietrich-Smith made the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Idaho State in 2009, playing in 13 regular-season games plus one playoff game as a rookie. But the following season, he was cut by the team in the final days of training camp. Dietrich-Smith was claimed by the Seattle Seahawks and spent the first month of the season on the Seahawks’ roster, was inactive for four games, and was released.
He spent the next few months out of football and out of work until his old team re-signed him for the final week of the 2010 regular season. He stayed on the roster, though inactive, through the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV run, just happy the Packers’ gave him another chance.
And now, he's set to start the rest of the year at left guard in the wake of right tackle Bryan Bulaga's season-ending hip injury. With Bulaga out, the Packers shifted T.J. Lang to right tackle and brought Dietrich-Smith, their jack-of-all-trades sixth lineman, in off the bench.
“Some guys don't get a second opportunity, and I'm thankful enough to get one from this team,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I'm glad this organization has been able to keep me around, because it helped me change my attitude and change the way I think about football and how I think about this team.”
“Being able to see it from the other side definitely opens up your eyes. There are some guys that have been with one team for so long, they haven't really taken that path. You ask the guys that have taken paths like that, it's not fun. It's not fun sitting out on the street hoping that one day someone's going to give you a call. Or knowing that you might be better than somebody that's playing but just because of the fact that you were under somebody else or you got cut by some other team, they might look down upon that.”
That change in attitude and new perspective has been very clear to others, including head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I think everybody that’s had the opportunity to be around Evan Dietrich-Smith from Day 1 to now…it’s been fun to watch him grow up as a man and as a football player,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “I have great confidence in him. We did not even blink when the injury happened in Arizona, and that's definitely the case going into this game. We’ll run a full offense (against the Lions) and it’s a reflection of the confidence that we have in him. I think it was an experience that he went through. Sometimes people need to do that, with him being cut and going on to have another opportunity, and then bringing him back.”
Rodgers has seen the growth, too.
“(It) was great for him was to go somewhere else and realize how important football was to him,” Rodgers said Tuesday on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “Not that he didn’t feel that way, but I think he’s really grown up a lot.”
After hearing about Rodgers' comments, Dietrich-Smith said he appreciated the compliments, and his teammate’s confidence in him.
“I'm glad,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I appreciate that he has the confidence in me. And I've felt that I've shown enough to give him that confidence. I'm doing something right if he's saying stuff like that. I've got to continue to do what I do, which is just go out, work hard, look at the film and just improve every day. Figure out things you've got to improve on, how you can improve your game, what can you do to make yourself stick around."
“This game is a vicious game. Nothing is guaranteed around here. You've got to make sure you do enough to keep yourself in the talks of being a part of the team and just going out and playing every day.”
Dietrich-Smith got to play significant minutes last season when right guard Josh Sitton suffered a knee injury in Week 12 against the Detroit Lions. That game is memorable for the play when Ndamukong Suh stomped on Dietrich-Smith’s right arm, which resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, ejection, and eventual two-game suspension for the Detroit Lions volatile star.
Dietrich-Smith went on to start three games, and played in all 17 – including the Packers’ playoff loss to the New York Giants – for the first time in his career. That playing time, especially in the division games, is going to help him in his upcoming starts.
“Oh, (I’m) a lot more confident,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I firmly believe my experience from last year is going to benefit me this year. You get to figure out the game speed, how things go, how Aaron runs the huddle, how we get in and out, how we fly around, basically how it's done. You see how it's supposed to look and I think that's the biggest thing that's going to help me going forward.”
And for Dietrich-Smith, going forward is what it’s all about. He has no intention of going back to how he felt during that 2010 season when he was out of work.
“I understand where I came from, but I also understand the fact that going forward is what I need to be thinking about,” Dietrich-Smith said. “You've got to be thinking about your future because you can't change the past. The past is the past and you've got to grow from your experiences. That's what I felt like I've done. I've been able to take the negatives and turn it into positives. See what you do wrong, fix it and do it right the next time.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.