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.
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…?——————
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.