For all of the countless repetitions and gut-checking drills that accompany an NFL training camp, the biggest battle Andrew Datko has waged has been in his own mind.
With a brace hugging his left shoulder, the Green Bay Packersí rookie offensive tackle has had to erase his once-prevailing apprehension about going full force following surgery last November during a season in which he missed the final nine games of his collegiate career at Florida State.
At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, Datko was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Seminoles, but fell into the seventh round in last Aprilís draft partially because of lingering questions about a shoulder thatís caused him problems since high school.
Right now, none of that matters. Datko is healthy and presented with a golden opportunity to prove himself on an offensive line ripe with opportunity behind the teamís five starters.
ďI had bad habits,Ē Datko said. ďItís healthy and I can use it, but my brain still hasnít told myself I can use it. Every time Iím in individuals or doing a drill, I have to tell myself, ĎLook, Iím healthy. I can use both my hands and punch,í so I have to keep reminding myself of that.Ē
Through the first two weeks of training camp, it hasnít always been smooth sailing. Datko struggled early on in pass protection during Thursdayís preseason game against San Diego while primarily playing at right tackle, a position he hasnít regularly played since high school.
Admittedly nervous about his first NFL game, Datko bounced back with a solid second half where he proved reliable, especially in run protection.
With starting left tackle Marshall Newhouse sidelined with a concussion, Datko has seen increased snaps at his natural side this week in practice. On Sunday, he lined up at left tackle with the first-team offense for the entire no-huddle period.
The team continued to rotate the first-team left tackle spot among Datko, third-year tackle Herb Taylor and recently signed veteran Reggie Wells, but the day belonged to Datko, who also went 4-0 during the teamís one-on-one pass rushing period.
ďI think he is getting better, I think heís starting to play faster,Ē Packers guard T.J. Lang said. ďThe more and more we go along and the more game experience he gets, heís going to continue to improve. Heís shown flashes of being a kid that can play. Heís struggled at times, which happens to everybody, but as long as he keeps improving, heís a guy in the meeting rooms whoís always doing stuff right.Ē
During last Mayís rookie orientation, head coach Mike McCarthy reminded the rookies of the opportunity thatís been presented to them and Datko has taken the notion to heart.
With Newhouse close to returning, Datko understands his fate largely will be decided by his versatility and being able to showcase himself at a number of positions. Heís seen it first-hand watching film sessions of a then-rookie Lang lining up at tackle and a young Evan Dietrich-Smith flipping between left and right guard.
Datko does have experience moving around. He played both guard positions at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School and has been working on his footwork extensively at right tackle.
Wherever his number is called, Datko is confident he can contribute. Heís not shell-shocked to line up in front of MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and has no qualms about his shoulder.
While the scar from his surgery still serves as a reminder of whatís been a love-hate relationship with football at times, Datko isnít letting it slow him down.
ďI havenít played in a year, so coming in (itís about) bumping that rust off,Ē Datko said. ďPractices are for getting better. Thatís why they have six weeks of it. Thatís why Iíve been pushing myself in practice trying to get better and better each day and see myself progressing.Ē
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