In 2000, the Green Bay Packers drafted a pair of tackles — Chad Clifton in the second round and Mark Tauscher in the seventh — and the duo would go on to start 286 regular-season games over the next decade plus.
Through most of that time, they played a significant role in keeping Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers upright and healthy.
It took the Packers two drafts to do it this time, but when general manager Ted Thompson picked Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod with the 32nd and final pick of the first round on Thursday, he may have completed a similar project. The pick of Sherrod, who started three years at left tackle, came a year after Thompson used his first-round pick on another tackle, Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga.
Bulaga, the 23rd overall pick of the 2010 draft is the likely left tackle of the future whenever Clifton finally wears down, even though last season as a rookie he started the final 12 regular-season games plus all four postseason games at right tackle after Tauscher sustained a shoulder injury, which might be career ending, The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Sherrod started his final three college seasons at left tackle, although many NFL scouts project him as a right tackle.
Either way, if Sherrod works out the way Bulaga appears likely to, then the Packers should have their next tackle combination of the future.
“It’s a little bit early to say (that),” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “All I can say is I’ve watched Derek on tape, and I really like him. I think he’s a very good fit. I’m not going too far down the road in terms of 10 years from now and all that stuff. We’re excited he’s here. We’re going to look forward to working with him when we get that opportunity, and we’ll see how he fits in.”
Just as Bulaga wasn’t penciled in as an immediate starter last season, Sherrod won’t be, either. Though Clifton will turn 35 on June 26 and is entering his 12th NFL season, the Packers still consider him their starting left tackle. In fact, at last month’s NFL annual meetings, coach Mike McCarthy said Clifton played his best football in the coach’s five-year tenure and called the final two regular-season games plus the playoffs “the best six-game stretch I think I’ve ever seen him play.”
Still, there’s no way to know when a player with Clifton’s wear and tear will break down, so this has to make the Packers feel even better about the tackle position.
“We feel OK,” Thompson said. “You’re never completely comfortable at any spot because injuries can happen. (Former Packers general manager) Ron (Wolf) and I used to talk about this all the time … if you can get quality big men, you always lean that way, especially picking late in the first round.”
With Tauscher likely to be released or retire at some point when NFL player transactions are allowed again, the Packers didn’t have a clear-cut No. 3 tackle on their roster. They ended last season with second-year pro T.J. Lang as their backup on both sides. While some in the organization view Lang as a potential right tackle whenever Bulaga replaces Clifton, Lang might be better suited to guard.
The Packers could enter training camp with an open competition at left guard, depending on whether the starter there, Daryn Colledge, is re-signed. Colledge could be an unrestricted free agent depending on the free-agency rules for 2011, which at this point are undetermined without a new collective bargaining agreement.
Neither Philbin nor Thompson, the two Packers’ representatives made available to reporters on Thursday, would rule out the possibility that Sherrod could get a shot at guard.
“Where he’s going to play, I don’t know,” Thompson said. “But you can never have too many big men. The more run blockers we have, the more pass blockers we have, the better off we do.”
Preserving the health of Rodgers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, has to be the Packers’ top priority, especially considering he sustained two concussions last season. There was no immediate reaction from Rodgers on Thursday night, but Packers linebacker Clay Matthews posted the following message on his Twitter account shortly after the Packers pick: “Protect the franchise!!”