Watching the Green Bay Packers get manhandled by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL opener last week gave me plenty of frustrations. However, what made me the most sick to my stomach was not the 20-point loss, it was watching both Bryan Bulaga and Richard Rodgers writhe on the ground in pain. Not only was I worried that star tackle Bulaga would be lost for yet another season to injury, but I also knew that Derek Sherrod was the next man up.
To be fair, I think Sherrod as a player has gotten a bad rap. The severe leg break he suffered against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 was not an injury anyone could foresee, prevent, or recover from quickly. Even though he didn’t have a stellar rookie career up to that point, it was still his first year and theoretically had time to improve.
Fast forward to 2014, and his bust status as a first round draft pick has come to a head. Going into his fourth season, Sherrod only appeared in six regular season games. The embarrassing performance in Seattle was his seventh. Sherrod will become a free agent in 2015 having never been a bona fide starter in the NFL.
My question this week, then, is this:
Should Ted Thompson give up on Derek Sherrod after what happened against the Seattle Seahawks and bring in a new right tackle?
In this installment of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, we’ll take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half empty” or “half full.”
THE MUG IS HALF FULL
When the Green Bay Packers drafted Derek Sherrod with the final pick of the first round in 2011, a lot of fans and sports pundits applauded the selection. Chad Clifton was quickly aging, and “protecting the franchise” was a priority. Ironically, many people were hoping Wisconsin Badgers left tackle Gabe Carimi would fall to the Packers; although, his career hasn’t exactly been on a stellar path, either.
But where has this love gone? As I mentioned earlier, some doubts might have crept in during that first season. Yet even those doubts were shrouded in more doubts about Mike McCarthy’s desire to train him at multiple positions along the line. His development and short-term performance was hypothetically being hindered more by what the coaches were doing than limitations of his football skills.
With fewer than ten regular season performances under his belt, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the true Derek Sherrod. We’ve seen glimpses, but never the full potential.
ProFootballFocus.com graded him at a 2.1 against the Tennessee Titans this preseason, a -0.1 against the St. Louis Rams, a -0.7 against the Oakland Raiders, and a 1.2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. In that four-game span, he allowed one quarterback sack, one hit, and two hurries. This is about the best picture we’ve seen of Sherrod since he recovered from his injury, and while it is obviously not a stellar performance, it is also not abysmal.
If all back-up offensive linemen could play like the starters, then they wouldn’t be back-ups. Even though he is four years into his first NFL contract, Sherrod still has room to grow as a player. Until he’s had that time and the real game experience, Thompson can use him as a serviceable back-up. He won’t, after all, be playing at the roaring CenturyLink Field every weekend.
THE MUG IS HALF EMPTY
Derek Sherrod might still have room to grow, but do the Packers have the time to let him? Sure, they’re not hurting much by continuing to work with him and have him on the bench, but that’s not where the team is at. Right now the Packers need to do everything they can to make another push for the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers is not getting any younger, and he’s not getting any healthier after games like the one last Thursday.
Part of the problem is that Don Barclay ended up on injured reserve this preseason after tearing his ACL in practice, leaving one less competent back-up lineman on the bench. However, that also underscores how crucial it is for Ted Thompson to find someone that can be more than just a serviceable replacement should Bulaga or Bakhtiari go down for any extended length of time.
Sherrod’s preseason numbers might not be horrible, but they are also within the context of preseason games. They are not from regular season games, where players are specifically schemed against and starters play the entirety of snaps. Is there much confidence for a tackle who can only post mediocre grades against mediocre players?
If Thompson and McCarthy are truly serious about making a run this year, then they need to start looking for an grooming a tackle that can do more than be “serviceable,” and pronto. Bulaga has a chance of returning to action as early as this weekend, so there could be time to bring in a new player and begin acclimating him to the system. Rodgers and the offense can’t afford to suffer another game with Sherrod at tackle.
GETTING THROUGH THE FOAM
If starting-caliber NFL tackles grew on trees, there would be a lot more franchises with orchards planted near their training facilities. Unfortunately, many teams are constantly searching for tackles who can both protect the edge and be a force in the running game. The Green Bay Packers are no different.
While the idea of bringing in a replacement for Derek Sherrod sounds great, there just isn’t anything to really pick from. Looking at the list of free agents, nothing really jumps out as a viable option. (And for Packers fans, it should say something that Marshall Newhouse was signed ahead of everyone else still on the streets.)
Feel free to disagree with me on this one, but I also don’t see Barclay as that much of a better option, even if he were healthy. Last year he allowed 9 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 27 hurries. Mostly lauded for his run blocking skills, Barclay really has the same problems with speed rushers that Sherrod does.
To top it all off, even the great tackles have bad days at CenturyLink Field. It’s just a noisy environment, and the Seattle defense itself provides a significant amount of pressure up front. ProFootballFocus.com graded Bulaga at -5.6 in the “Fail Mary” game of 2012 after giving up two sacks, one hit, and eight hurries. The only real difference between that performance and Sherrod’s was the absence of a safety.
Derek Sherrod’s career mug might be half empty when it’s all said and done, but at this point his worth to the team is half full. Thompson could easily let him walk at the end of this season, but for now there’s few to no better options out there. And to be honest, do we really have any other choice than to be hopeful for the remainder of this year?——————Follow @ChadToporski