When Joe and Cynthia Tretter flew into town recently, they were able to witness something most parents of 22-year-old children take for granted on a daily basis.
They saw their son walk again.
For the better part of four months, Green Bay Packers rookie offensive lineman J.C. Tretter was confined to crutches after breaking his ankle on the first day of organized team activities.
Menial tasks such as driving a car, fixing a meal or walking up and down a flight of stairs became near-impossible undertakings for Tretter, who’d never dealt with an injury of that severity before.
Plenty of individuals, including Packers coach Mike McCarthy and fellow rookie David Bakhtiari, offered a helping hand, but once the shock of the injury was over, it was up to Tretter to begin his recovery.
Inside the locker room, there was one particular player Tretter could relate to – one individual who seemed to say all the right things to make him feel like everything was going to be OK.
That person was Derek Sherrod.
“His injury was much worse than mine but he was a good person to talk to because he understood not just the football aspect of it but the day-to-day,” Tretter said. “How tough it is to take a shower – to change, to move around. He kind of understood exactly what I was going through while I was going through it.
Like Tretter, Sherrod has been a prisoner of the physically unable to perform list for more than a year. A first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the 6-foot-6, 321-pound offensive lineman hasn’t played in nearly two years since breaking his right leg in two places against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 18, 2011.
Sherrod was all of five games into his NFL career at the time of the injury and was the only Packers’ player not to make it off PUP last season before undergoing a second surgery in the offseason.
Both Tretter and Sherrod are eligible to begin practicing again with the team following today’s game in Baltimore. Per a rules change in 2013, PUP players have a five-week window to start practicing with their team. Once they do, each player is provided a three-week window to practice before needing to be activated to the 53-man roster or kept on PUP.
That means either player has until Week 14 to make it back onto the field. In the past, PUP players had only three weeks to start practicing again before beginning a three-week window to do so.
This past week, McCarthy was adamant that Sherrod has made noticeable progress and will play this season. For Tretter, there’s not quite as much certainty as he’s still waiting to be cleared to run on field.
Until then, he’s just trying to remain patient like Sherrod has for the better part of two years.
“It’s what you have to do. You don’t have any choice,” Tretter said. “You have to get healthy. Injuries are a part of this business and that’s something you have to live with. Really, it’s just having that right mindset and grinding through it. Every day, your goal is to learn the playbook and get healthy. Those are the only two things you can do at this point. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Along with Tretter and Sherrod, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy (knee) and safety Sean Richardson (neck) are eligible to begin practicing again. Worthy has been the most vocal about a potential return in the near future.
The biggest takeaway Packers cornerback coach Joe Whitt had from last Sunday’s 22-9 win over Detroit had nothing to do with the players in his room.
It was the play of B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett in the Packers’ nickel sub-package.
The Lions scratched star receiver Calvin Johnson 90 minutes before kickoff last weekend due to knee soreness, but Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers called almost an identical game to one the defense schemed for all week in practice.
A part of that called for the Packers’ defensive linemen to run in two-man shifts for a defense that ended up playing more than 90 percent of their snaps in nickel and dime sub-packages.
Raji (35 snaps) and Pickett (21 snaps) were the first line of defense and played a key role limiting Reggie Bush to only 13 carries for 44 yards and keep the Lions’ run offense to only 3.4-yards per carry.
Coincidentally, neither Raji nor Pickett registered a tackle, but helped set the table for the linebackers and defensive backs around them to get a clean look at the ball carrier.
Considering the duo has predominately been lining up next to 6-foot-3, 328-pound Johnny Jolly in the Okie package, it made for a yeoman’s effort.
“I was surprised by it. (Capers) called it just like we were going to call it for (Johnson). He made the same calls,” Whitt said. “The guys up front did a great job. We were in a lot of six-man boxes and Pickett and B.J. Raji, they did an outstanding job of playing that run and hitting four blocks with two guys and allowing the linebackers and secondary to go run and tackle.
“Those guys I don’t think got enough credit for the way that we played. Those two guys, along with Mike Daniels, were just phenomenal in this last game because we play lot of Cover-2, a lot of light boxes and we didn’t allow runs.”
The Green Bay Packers came extremely close to losing James Nixon to the Buffalo Bills this week, along with full year they invested into the first-year cornerback.
Nixon, 25, appeared to be one the verge of signing onto the Bills’ 53-man roster before the Packers made the decision to promote the 6-foot cornerback from their practice squad to the active roster.
They were able to do so in the wake of inside linebacker Robert Francois being lost for the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon in the third quarter of last Sunday’s game against the Lions.
Nixon originally signed onto the Packers’ scout team last September as a speedy but incredibly raw prospect out of California (Pa.). He played his first three years on the offensive side of the ball at Temple before switching to cornerback after transferring as a senior.
Injuries and opportunity resulted in him only starting two of 12 games during his one-year stint with the Vulcans, finishing with only 14 tackles and being used sparingly on kickoff returns.
In some ways, he reminds the Packers of Sam Shields, another lightning-quick cornerback who converted from offense late in his college career who now is arguably the team’s top defensive back.
“He was still pretty raw because you’re so limited in the time you have in college with the 20-hour rule,” Whitt said. “It’s difficult to take a guy in and teach him everything you have to teach in one year about defense. You can get him to play at a high level, but to get them to understand that when they come to the NFL the complexity of the schemes is so different. It takes time.”
Nixon had shown legitimate potential in two preseason games with four tackles before knee and ankle injuries ended his camp prematurely. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown during the Packers’ Family Night intra-squad scrimmage.
When Nixon found out of the Packers’ intention to promote him after a year on the practice squad, he immediately phoned his parents, Erika and Lionel Nixon, Sr., who didn’t believed him at first.
Finally, the realization began to sink in that their son had cracked an NFL roster.
“I’m kind of still in disbelief. You kind of feel like you’re in a dream a bit,” Nixon said. “I called up my dad, joked around with him about it for a little while and finally told him. I called my mom last and she had the greatest response. She was like, ‘What?’ She was going crazy, doing all this stuff. Stomping. It was cool.”
The Packers now have seven cornerbacks on the roster and 11 defensive backs. Although Nixon doesn't figure to play much of a factor on defense at the moment, there's a good chance he'll be active today on special teams.
While the Packers were able to hold onto Nixon, they weren’t able to stop the Cleveland Browns from signing away rookie receiver Charles Johnson on Saturday.
A seventh-round pick out of Grand Valley State, Johnson possessed good size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and explosiveness, but missed most of the offseason program and training camp due to various injuries.
Surprisingly, the Browns opted to sign Johnson instead of promoting former Packers receiver Tori Gurley from their own practice squad. Gurley had been promoted to Cleveland’s active earlier this year before being sent back down to the practice squad when Josh Gordon returned from a league suspension.
There hasn't been any indication the Packers attempted to match the Browns' offer to keep Johnson on the practice squad like they did with Gurley and Diondre Borel near the end of the 2011 season.
Practice-squad players make a minimum salary of $6,000 per week during the 2013 season ($102,000 for the year), but teams are free to pay more for players with the extra salary counting against the cap.
The Packers are only carrying four receivers on the active roster, leaving rookie Myles White as their only other option on the practice squad.
Top draft pick remains patient
Datone Jones knows he’s yet to light the world on fire one month into his NFL career, but he recently received some sage advice from another first-round pick, Ryan Pickett, the Packers’ eldest veteran.
Jones, the Packers’ first-round pick in April, has only one tackle to his name in four professional games operating primarily out of the Packers’ dime sub-package (where he’s seen 67 snaps).
Still, he’s not pressing.
“Ryan Pickett … he told me, ‘Man, I didn’t play a rep (at the beginning) when I was a rookie, so all you have to do is keep coming here and learning everyday and keep getting better,’” Jones said. “Because he said, ‘I’ve had a long career here.’ … The same thing with him, playing the same position I’m playing so I can’t really complain.”
Jones is correct. The 33-year-old veteran began his rookie season with St. Louis in 2001 by playing in only one game through the first month without a recordable stat. He eventually played in 11 games with 19 tackles and ½ sack.
Jones started off well in camp before suffering an ankle injury he had a difficult time overcoming. Now, he’s hoping for a finish like Pickett had more than a decade earlier.
“I think Datone is a work-in-progress,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “The thing that he has to learn that’s different for him is, he’s got to learn to come in for a play and kick some (butt), and then leave. Come in for a play, kick some (butt), then leave. He’ll get it.”
Filling in for Francois
Sam Barrington understands his responsibility filling the void for Robert Francois runs far deeper than being the Packers’ top reserve at inside linebacker.
The seventh-round rookie linebacker out of South Florida also must pick up some of the slack on special teams where Francois was a fixture on both coverage and return units. Last season, Francois had 13 tackles on 339 special-teams snaps.
“We have to step up,” said Barrington, who has one tackle in three games. “Robert was a leader on special teams … Anytime you have a lot of guy who’s willing to come in and bring a source of leadership – leadership doesn’t always have to be what you say because he wasn’t a guy who spoke a lot, but it’s all about what you do. We have to have guys who step up, take his spot and play well.”
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