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Datko brings healthy mindset to practice

Aug. 13, 2012
 
Tackle Andrew Datko at Sunday's training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon. Megan McCormick/Press-Gazette
Tackle Andrew Datko at Sunday's training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon. Megan McCormick/Press-Gazette

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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 Packers’ 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 April’s draft partially because of lingering questions about a shoulder that’s 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 team’s five starters.

“I had bad habits,” Datko said. “It’s healthy and I can use it, but my brain still hasn’t told myself I can use it. Every time I’m in individuals or doing a drill, I have to tell myself, ‘Look, I’m healthy. I can use both my hands and punch,’ so I have to keep reminding myself of that.”

Through the first two weeks of training camp, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Datko struggled early on in pass protection during Thursday’s preseason game against San Diego while primarily playing at right tackle, a position he hasn’t 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 team’s one-on-one pass rushing period.

“I think he is getting better, I think he’s starting to play faster,” Packers guard T.J. Lang said. “The more and more we go along and the more game experience he gets, he’s going to continue to improve. He’s shown flashes of being a kid that can play. He’s struggled at times, which happens to everybody, but as long as he keeps improving, he’s a guy in the meeting rooms who’s always doing stuff right.”

During last May’s rookie orientation, head coach Mike McCarthy reminded the rookies of the opportunity that’s 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. He’s 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. He’s 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 what’s been a love-hate relationship with football at times, Datko isn’t letting it slow him down.

“I haven’t played in a year, so coming in (it’s about) bumping that rust off,” Datko said. “Practices are for getting better. That’s why they have six weeks of it. That’s why I’ve been pushing myself in practice trying to get better and better each day and see myself progressing.”

whodkiew@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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