Packers Preseason Film Study – Derek Sherrod vs. T. J. Lang

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Green Bay Packers Derek SherrodOne of the Packers’ most hotly contested training camp battles has been for the left guard spot, where Derek Sherrod and T. J. Lang have been sharing reps.

Sherrod has never played guard before, and it shows at times. But his athleticism level and football smarts have caused Coach Mike McCarthy to give him every opportunity to win a job. In fact, McCarthy has started Sherrod with the #1 offense from the first day of training camp, and so far, he remains there.

The consensus among professional media, bloggers and fans are that Lang will win the job. I say, not so fast. I totally buy the argument that Lang is a better fit at guard than Sherrod – I get that. But is he a better player? Would starting Lang at guard be consistent with McCarthy’s mantra to put “the best five on the field” for the Packers offensive line? From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think so.

Green Bay Packer T. J. Lang

This is eerily similar to last preseason with Bryan Bulaga. McCarthy gave the #1 draft choice every chance to win the job, but an injury eventually derailed that plan and McCarthy went with the safer bet, incumbent Daryn Colledge. I wrote at the time that I thought Bulaga was an NFL starter right then, and belonged on the field somewhere, even if at guard.

This week was my first glimpse of Sherrod in action as a Packer. Both he and Lang put a lot of snaps on tape for the coaches to evaluate. Perfect for my first film study of the 2011 season! I went back and studied every offensive play in the first half, when Cleveland was playing their starters and near-starters. Focusing strictly on Sherrod and Lang, I noticed some very interesting things. Let’s take a look at but a few.

Derek Sherrod in pass protection as a tackle:

Watch Sherrod’s feet. Quick short steps, up on the balls of his feet. Keeps the defender square in front of him the whole time, doesn’t succomb to the swim move and shows a good punch to keep the rusher off-balance and not allowing him to get into his body. These skills are why I was hoping for the Packers to land Sherrod last April -he will be their left tackle bookend for the rest of this decade. Now let’s look at T.J. Lang:

T. J. Lang in pass protection as a tackle:

Lang does a good job here, but he isn’t really challenged much. Also, it’s a 4-5 step drop and Flynn has room to step up before throwing.. Watch Lang’s footwork on the end-zone view replay. His footwork is a bit slow off the snap (his feet almost touch a few times) but he positions himself well and cuts off the angle as needed. He got the job done, but no comparison to Sherrod. Now let’s look at them at the guard position:

Derek Sherrod downfield run blocking as a guard:

Here Sherrod has to head downfield to block a linebacker. Basically a one-on-drill with the linebacker not restricted by where he can go. Sherrod does a fine job staying under control, squaring up with the ‘backer and sealing him off to the outside. Textbook. Now Lang:

T. J. Lang downfield run blocking as a guard:

Lang breaks through the line, and gives a half-hearted look at the linebacker who easily uses Lang’s momentum in one direction to bypass him on the other side. Lang does not set and square at all. The linebacker ends up making the tackle. Not a huge deal with respect to success of the play, but a very fundamentally unsound block attempt by Lang. Now some miscellaneous plays to illustrate a few things:

Derek Sherrod pass protection as a guard:

Sherrod shows some of those football smarts. he checks inside first, feels that Scott Wells has the inside rusher blocked and quickly kicks out (like a left tackle would do) in case Clifton needs help. He shows great awareness and that nice footwork which will do him much good in his future battles at left tackle. Now let’s look at Lang (at tackle) and Sherrod (at guard) together:

Packers T. J. Lang pass protection, Derek Sherrod picks up his man:

So here, the player over Sherrod slants to the outside, towards Lang. Both Lang and Sherrod engage the blocker, but Sherrod immediately sees an outside rusher stunting behind to the inside and easily slides off his block to pick up the stunt. Again, excellent awareness and football smarts for a rookie. These skills will apply in whatever position Sherrod might be playing. Finally, to be fair, Sherrod’s worst play of the evening:

Packers Derek Sherrod beat on an inside move:

To be fair, Sherrod’s night was certainly not perfect. While he didn’t give up any sacks, he did give up a few pressures, this one probably being the worst. Certainly Sherrod has a lot to learn, but from what we see here, Packers’ fans can all feel comfortable about the future of the left tackle position in Green Bay.

As for this season, Mike McCarthy may have tipped his hand. Just today, McCarthy was quoted as saying,” “I really like how T.J.’s come to camp,” McCarthy said after Wednesday’s practice. “We have a history with T.J. He’s made a jump from last year. That’s clearly evident. Derek’s really just trying to get familiar. He’s going through a little bit of what Bryan (Bulaga) went through last year. He’s not playing as fast as he’d like to. He’s not reacting to things as quickly as he’d like to. It’s a little more thinking than the finishing and urgency you’re looking for.”

So it seems just about everyone is leaning towards Lang as the starter. Everyone except for me. I just don’t see the ability in T.J. Lang that I see in Sherrod. Just as I wanted Bulaga on the field last year, I say let Sherrod start at left guard and keep T.J. Lang as your “Super-Sub” who can fill in at any O-Line position, when needed. But what do I know…?

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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  • lmills

    Isn’t that a picture of Cullen Jenkins at the top?

    Good article. Thanks for the visuals.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      oops – asleep at the wheel. Fixed… Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/alfredaugust Tedaldtada29

    Fantastic piece.

    Sherrod certainly looks the part and clearly outperformed TJ Lang in those video clips. An Academic All-American to boot. Seems like a great draft already.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Thanks. I was so happy when Sherrod was there at 32, I dropped my Brooks Reed pick and was 100% behind taking Sherrod. I think he could be one of the top 2 or 3 OTs taken in that draft.

  • Dan “FireMMNow” Blakley

    while i agree with you that lang is definitely the more gifted lineman, you also want to look at what is best for this team. this is most likely clifton’s final season, and the odds of him not making it through this season are high. this team has to find out if lang is a starting LG in this league. there does not seem to be much doubt that sherrod is going to be a decent player and will be the heir apparent at LT. you have to look at the highest and best use of your players. Sherrod’s highest and best use is as a LT. Lang’s most likely is LG. if clifton goes out do you want to have to shift 2 positions on the line or just one? I would prefer just one.

    • Bearmeat

      Completely agree Dan. Sherrod has a higher ceiling – at LT. MM needs to see if Lang is a future starting caliber LG – and if he is (which I think he will be) then the starting 5 OL spots are set for years.. How’s that going to feel GB fans? Having a solid to great and young OL? Haven’t had that since the days of U-76 and Kevin Barry!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I believe you meant Sherrod as the more gifted. You make the best case for keeping Sherrod at tackle, but selfishly, I want to be able to watch him play,as opposed to Lang.

      • Dan “FireMMNow” Blakley

        face meet palm…yeah sherrod is the more talented.

  • http://Orlando simzap

    What I wanted to see was a comparison in drive blocking on short yardage runs. This is the area that needs to improve for our run game to get moving. Last year and since MM has been coach we’ve had to throw or #12 has to run for us to get 1 yard when we need it!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      With so few runs, use of the ZBS, and most running plays going to the right in that game, there just weren’t any that were useful to look at.

  • Ron LC

    Personally, I feel TJ is a better guard. Sherrod’s body and natural moves remind me of a young Cliffton. He moves with ease and is able to stick to his guy. Much rather start grooming him to replace Clifton now.

    Whatever the decision, MM needs to give the LG successor most of the snaps now. That guy needs all the work they can get before NO comes to town.

    Also, a LT replacement must be ready on day one. That guy needs to start getting most of the snaps now. Cliffton, at best, will need to be spelled occasionally. At worst he’ll get injured early.

    Thanks for the clips and analysis Al. You and the rest of the guys continue to provide us with stuff that no other NFL fans get. Real analysis without being “homers.”

    • Dan “FireMMNow” Blakley

      i agree ron. the other thing that is key is the line communicates from the inside out. Lang has been in the system and should be more comfortable with the protections. He is less talented, but experience on the o-line is pure gold.

      give sherrod as many first reps at LT as possible and second team reps at LG.

  • Elle

    No one at all argues the fact that Sherrod is going to be a fantastic O-lineman. He’s 99.9% certain to be Clifton’s replacement, and WILL be a starter on this team.

    Lang certainly has some rust like a lot of players on this team.

    Go back and look at his film from last year. He’s eons ahead of Sherrod. At the guard position of course.

    TJ Lang, at best, is serviceable at tackle, he is NOT a natural tackle. At the guard position, there is no question. TJ Lang is better. The only reason Sherrod was played there was because of his potential, and the coaches were hoping he’d pick it up quickly. In a normal off-season, I think Sherrod would have had a very good shot of making the LG position.

    It’s too much to ask of him right now, though. Learning 2 positions in, what, 4-5 weeks? With a WCO playbook? Not gonna happen.

  • A_Lerxst_in_Packerland

    I am SO glad that football is back and we’re reading this kind of stuff! Very informative and interesting.

    Thanks, Al!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      You’re welcome!

  • PackerBacker

    Al, I love the film study. Always nice to be able to concentrate on one of two players which isn’t normally done when watching the whole game.
    Having said that, I completely disagree with you on this.
    Lang is in his 3rd year now and has progressed as much as he can in practice. He’s graded out as the best LG in practices and the Browns game. He has more experience in the Packers offense, which means he’ll be playing without having to think about everything. And finally, he is the future at LG, Sherrod is the future at LT.
    First and foremost, MM needs to give the job to the lineman who is the best. Forget potential, that’s what practice is for. Also, as mentioned before, they need Sherrod to practice at LT to back up Clifton if anything (God forbid) should happen to him this year.
    Best case scenario for the team – Lang at LG, Clifton at LT for a whole healthy year (or as close as Clifton can get) and Sherrod practicing, learning, and spending the always important post-rookie off-season working at his craft. Then, next year there is a major competition between Clifton and Sherrod at LT and Lang is well entrenched at LG.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Can’t argue too much with your points. I’m not as sold on Lang, even at guard, as most people are – at least not yet. I need to see more than I’ve seen so far.

    • PackersRS

      Completely agree with this.

      Sorry, Al. I think you let your bias guide you in the article this time. It’s true that the videos you’ve posted clearly show that Sherrod is the better player, and by far the better athlete.

      But the starting job isn’t just based on those videos. You didn’t write how well each fared in the LG spot (LT spot is irrelevant, almost like saying Grant would be a better FB than Kuhn) in the game, nor in training camp.

      Without that info, there can’t be a conclusion regarding who should start in the LG spot. So we have to trust the more informed coaching staff.

  • Tarynfor 12

    The mindset of a muti-positional OL is great to a point and should be almost moot when a realization is too close to maintain that comfort.

    The comfort that made it possible was Clifton and Tauscher and what makes it just as un-comfortable now is that Clifton is no longer a constant and Tauscher already gone.

    The case of Bulaga should be enough to easily accept Sherrod needs only at this time LT reps and be hopefully more prepared than what was afforded Bulaga.

    I don’t want Rodgers suffering while he LEARNS on the field in LIVE play where the rush and speed of the game will in no doubt be much more extreme than the videos via a preseason game which probably had some wink-wink goings on.

    Our rush on defense wasn’t in slo-mo simply because of the lack of practice.

    I hear and agree that to have Tackle bookends for 8-10 years is a dream all would love,yet why do some wish to chance losing it by not allowing it to mature without mis-direction.

    • Dan “FireMMNow” Blakley

      —The mindset of a muti-positional OL is great to a point and should be almost moot when a realization is too close to maintain that comfort.—

      ummm….what?

      • Tarynfor 12

        As nice as it may be for MM to have OL men muti-positional,with the “iffy Cliffy” time should not be wasted on Sherrod at LG at this time or ever.He should be training,learning the LT spot so we are not in the same possible senario as with Bulaga when Tauscher went down last year,hoping he will grasp on fast after spending time at RG.

  • Mojo

    Don’t know how I feel about this, but I probably back the majority of posters who seem to favor Lang at LG and Sherrod apprenticing under Cliffy.

    I will say Sherrod looked very very good in your first example “Derek Sherrod in pass protection as a tackle”.

    Fortunately both Lang and Sherrod were able to evade this strange arrowhead that kept creeping onto the field.

  • Mojo

    Lang and Sherrod showed incredible discipline by not false starting while the the giant arrowhead was flinching.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      The UFOs are coming…

  • aaronqb

    Great work – love the film studies.

    I think if Lang and Sherrod are equal as LG, then Lang gets the job. Bulaga started 2010 as the primary backup at both LT and RT and things worked out well. I would like the see the same role for Sherrod. Going into 2010, very few believed that Clifton would make it through the entire season – last year we dodged the bullet – can’t assume that the same will apply in 2011.

    Sherrod should work on backing up both tackles. Newhouse doesn’t look good at RT and Clifton may need help this year.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Thanks Aaron. I know I’m spitting in the wind a bit here, but it makes for good conversation.

  • nonstop

    It seems like your confirmation bias is letting you see Sherrod doing better when mine has let me see Lang do better at guard than Sherrod.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      ah yes, that’s it. Of course. Which is why I included that last clip, to make Sherrod look even better to confirm my “rightness.”

  • Ruppert

    This is great. I didn’t get to see the game or the scrimmage. In fact, this is the first video I have seen of anything from the ’11 Pack. I have been working a lot lately. Thanks, Al!

    I realize it’s wayyy early, and the sample size is tiny. But just take a guess and tell me how you think either one compares to the guy they are replacing. Do you think we’re looking at improved performance from the LG position over what Colledge brought to it? Thanks again, Al.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      That is a really good question. But as you said, it’s just too early. I don’t have an opinion on that yet…

  • Ron LC

    TJ to start at LG tonight. Let’s see if he gets most of the snaps.

  • Elle

    Yeah, so. At least based on last night’s game, there’s no question who’s the better LG. “Better” being a relative thing.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      haven’t seen it yet myself, but that’s what I’ve heard…