Green Bay Packers tackle T.J. Lang (70) looks on during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
The Green Bay Packers still are giving first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod every chance to show he should be starting on their offensive line as a rookie.
But after two weeks of training camp, including one preseason game, Sherrod appears to be a little behind third-year pro T.J. Lang in their battle for the starting job at left guard with not much time left to win the job.
In the first week of camp, the Packers gave Sherrod the majority of snaps at left guard with the starters to accelerate his transition from his college and long-term position, tackle. But last week Sherrod and Lang began splitting snaps more evenly, and in practice Monday, with left tackle Chad Clifton sitting out team drills to keep his legs fresh, they flip-flopped between left guard and left tackle with the starters.
Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t revealed when he wants to name his left guard, though the presumption is it will be in the next week or two. Optimally he’d decide by next week so that the No. 1 line can play together in the third preseason game, when the starters have their longest stint of the preseason, usually through the first series of the second half.
“T.J. probably graded out a little better than Derek,” McCarthy said of the preseason opener last week against Cleveland. “But we’re not making any decision today. It’s important to get both those guys as many reps as possible.”
Sherrod is finding out, as 2010 first-round pick Bryan Bulaga did last year in camp, that the move from tackle to guard is far from automatic, even for a player drafted late in the first round.
Last year, Bulaga opened training camp as Clifton’s backup at left tackle and played well enough in the first week that the Packers moved him to left guard to compete with Daryn Colledge for the starting job. Lang was supposed to be Colledge’s competition but had wrist surgery in the offseason that left him too rusty and undertrained early in camp to be a factor.
Bulaga spent two weeks at left guard and played in two preseason games. But Colledge played well enough that Bulaga moved back to backup left tackle, where he remained until Mark Tauscher’s shoulder injury opened the job at right tackle in Week 5.
Bulaga, unlike Sherrod, at least had played guard some in college at Iowa as a true freshman, but he still felt some of the fish-out-of-water phenomenon.
“I thought I made plenty of mistakes,” Bulaga said Monday, “was a little uncomfortable at times, just because I wasn’t completely comfortable with the offense. Things were kind of flying by.”
The hardest adjustment moving from tackle to guard is the immediacy of the action. Defensive ends usually line up wider than the offensive tackle, and especially on pass plays there’s a beat or two of time before they collide. Guards, though, often are aligned directly across from a defensive tackle, and the two usually hit immediately after the snap. There also are more protection reads at guard than tackle.
“Things inside happen a lot quicker,” Bulaga said. “There’s a lot more dogs and blitzes going on inside there, you have to pass things off to the center. You’re between two people, the tackle and center are right there, you have to be able to work well in tight quarters. That’s the biggest difference I noticed.”
Bulaga said he felt noticeably better the second week at guard than the first, but even then he didn’t play well enough for the Packers to keep the job open another week when they had a reliable veteran in Colledge there. Sherrod is getting a longer look because there’s no incumbent this year, but he’ll have to show rapid acclimation to the new position in practice and then Friday against Arizona to justify keeping the job open.
“I’m out here to compete and get on the field and see if I can help my team out,” Sherrod said.
No matter who wins the job, Sherrod’s long-term future is at left tackle, where he looks more natural, especially in pass protection, and probably will be Clifton’s successor.
Lang, on the other hand, is looking to be the left guard for the long run. The third-year pro still hasn’t been through the Packers’ offseason workout program – last year he had the wrist surgery, and this year the NFL lockout prohibited contact between players and teams.
But he didn’t have any offseason surgeries and came to camp in much better physical shape than last year. He also is in his third year in the offense and has played both tackles and both guards during his time with the Packers, so he has a better understanding of the offense than the rookie Sherrod.
“Lot of work that needs to be done by both of us,” Lang said. “It might take another game or two, but I definitely like the way I started Saturday at Cleveland.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@PeteDougherty.