By Chris Jenkins/The Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Just hours before he hit the practice field for the first time as a Green Bay Packer, first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod insisted he had no idea which offensive line position he’d be playing.
Perhaps Sherrod was just being coy, not wanting to get off on the wrong foot with his new coaches by relaying conversations held behind closed doors. Or maybe he genuinely didn’t know.
“To be honest, I really don’t have a preference,” Sherrod said. “I just want to get out on the field.”
Sherrod may have been surprised when he spent much of the first week of the Packers’ training camp at left guard with the first-team offense – an unfamiliar position for a player used to lining up at left tackle at Mississippi State.
When the Packers drafted Sherrod with the 32nd overall pick, he was immediately seen as the team’s long-term successor to left tackle Chad Clifton.
But the Packers still have Clifton for now, making left guard a more immediate need after Daryn Colledge left through free agency. While Sherrod is getting the first shot at the job, third-year player T.J. Lang might ultimately prove to be a better fit at left guard as the Packers progress through camp and the preseason.
For now, Sherrod also is playing some left tackle with the Packers’ backups in addition to his snaps at left guard with the No. 1 unit. That’s a lot to throw at a rookie who didn’t have the benefit of offseason workouts that were wiped out by the lockout, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said some of the mental errors Sherrod has made are to be expected.
“He’s bouncing back and forth from left guard to left tackle,” McCarthy said this week. “That’s going to be a challenge. We know that. He’s very bright. You can see it in the classroom. You like what you see physically. But we’re asking him to do things a little differently than he’s been asked to do them in college. So it’s going to take some time.”
The early rave reviews in camp have gone not to Sherrod, but to Marshall Newhouse, an unheralded fifth-round draft pick in 2010 who has looked good at left tackle with the No. 1 unit as Clifton rests his knees and works slowly into the rotation.
“Certainly the kid’s gotten a lot stronger and I wouldn’t pigeonhole him there (at left tackle) but he certainly looks good,” offensive line coach James Campen said of Newhouse. “He has left tackle feet and he’s a very quick, very explosive guy. I’ve been pleased.”
Sherrod has yet to stand out, but Bulaga said he is doing a good job dealing with so much unfamiliarity.
“It’s just a matter of getting used to it,” Bulaga said. “The faster he learns the offense, the more comfortable he’s going to get with that position. Every day you see him making improvements. Obviously, everyone has a lot to work on. You see him get confidence every day. It’s a matter of telling him, ‘Hey, keep grinding, keep working, don’t get down on yourself. You can’t figure out the position in one day. It’s more than just one day.”‘
Campen says Sherrod has to make some adjustments to play guard, especially to his footwork.
“It’s just something he’s going to have to go through, and he will,” Campen said.
At least Sherrod didn’t seem overwhelmed by the playbook.
“When you’re at this level, you have to be able to understand things and be eager to learn, be able to comprehend things that you might not be used to,” Sherrod said. “You have to understand them on your own, that’s your responsibility.”
Bulaga said there’s no quick fix – just as many repetitions in practice as he can get.
“You’ve got to keep working on something new every day, and improve on something every day,” Bulaga said. “And I think he’s done that. It’s just a matter of as many reps as he can get, it’s going to help out. I’m still in the same boat. As many reps as I can get it’s going to help out. But it’s going to be fine. He’s a great guy, he studies hard, and I think he’s going to do really well.”