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Ranking the Roster: Jon Dietzen – No. 89

Exactly 823 days after retiring, the native of nearby Black Creek who played his high school ball at Seymour was on the field for the Green Bay Packers’ rookie camp as an undrafted free agent.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster ahead of the start of training camp on July 27. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.

No. 89: G Jon Dietzen (6-5, 312; 24; rookie; Wisconsin)

On Feb. 11, 2019, University of Wisconsin offensive lineman Jon Dietzen retired from football.

“At that point, I truly believed I was done with football,” Dietzen told UWBadgers.com last year. “I basically had been putting up with numerous injuries – kind of repetitive things – and I really just thought it wasn't the best thing for me.

“I can't say it was anything specifically, but it was a culmination of things that brought me to the point where I felt like I couldn't do it anymore … I took some time to myself to think about what I wanted at that time. And at that time, I didn't really think that I wanted to be playing ball.”

After the 2017 season, Dietzen had surgery to repair the labrum in both hips. He made it back in time for the 2018 opener. It was an impressive comeback but one that took its toll.

“These guys get so anxious to hurry back, and he’d be the first to tell you that he could do it but he couldn’t do it for long,” Joe Rudolph, the Badgers’ associate head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach, said last month. “It wasn’t quite where he needed it to be. He got to the end and it was so taxing on him physically and emotionally. He was like, ‘This isn’t going to be right.’”

About six weeks after starting at left tackle in the Badgers’ blowout bowl victory over Miami, Dietzen retired. Five or six months later, he started to reconsider.

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“When he got away from it – he loves training, he loves working out, and he kept doing it for himself,” Rudolph continued. “He started to realize that he was feeling pretty good. So, he started working out harder and trying to get a little stronger and he was getting back to form.”

Time heals all wounds. In this case, it was the physical wounds. The aches and pains that had worn down Dietzen were gone. So, he told Rudolph what he was thinking.

Exactly 620 days later, Dietzen was in the starting lineup for the 2020 opener against Illinois. And exactly 823 days later, the native of nearby Black Creek who played his high school ball at Seymour was on the field for the Packers’ rookie camp as an undrafted free agent.

“Dietz came back after going through all that. I know for a lot of people, they’re off their boards right there just for injury concerns, but he started at right guard, left guard and left tackle for us,” Rudolph said. “Really did a hell of a job this season. His career would back it up.”

Dietzen’s biggest problem in the NFL might not be talent. And it might not even be his injury history. Rather, it might be numbers. The Packers return four of their five starters from last year. Plus, they’ve invested six draft picks on the offensive line – including Wisconsin teammate Cole Van Lanen – the past two seasons. That’s 10 players at a position group that might include nine on the final 53. Dietzen is one of 16 linemen overall on the roster.

But, with 39 starts at three positions at a high-caliber program known for mass-producing offensive linemen, maybe Dietzen can continue his unlikely comeback story.

“It was awesome. I was pumped,” Rudolph said. “You could see it in his face how much he loved being back, how much he loved the opportunity to be playing. I thought he did an awesome job and helped this team through a difficult year with his approach. I think he’s got a talent level to stick on the team and he’s got a talent level where it wouldn’t be a matchup problem. It’s just about him learning it and getting it down, but he’ll match up against the D-linemen. Some guys, that’s their problem, right? You don’t know if they’ll match up or not, but he’s got the size, strength and athleticism to match up.”

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