I understand why Derek Sherrod opened camp as the starting left guard. This year’s first-round draft choice is far and away the most talented of the contenders for the job – not to mention far and away the highest-paid. But I also understand how difficult the transition will be. Not only does Sherrod have to learn a new position – he played tackle at Mississippi State – but he has to do it with a body that simply isn’t built to play inside.
There’s a reason most offensive linemen over 6’4 play tackle in the NFL. While great height and long arms are an advantage when playing on an island, those same traits tend to be a problem when working in tight quarters. That means technique will be very important for Sherrod. He must avoid playing too upright and allowing defenders to get inside his frame and control him. But even if he keeps his pad-level low (there’s your first McCarthyism of the season), it remains to be seen whether he has the lower-body strength needed to keep from getting rocked backwards by powerful defensive linemen. Even while playing tackle in college, Sherrod wasn’t overly aggressive and tended to do too much catching.
There aren’t many quality guards as tall as Sherrod in the NFL – he measured just under 6’6 at his pro day – but there are a few. Steve Hutchison (Vikings), Carl Nicks (Saints), Leonard Davis (ex-Cowboys) and Alan Faneca (retired) have all gone to a Pro Bowl within the past two years and each stands at least 6’5. Nevertheless, they are the exceptions rather than the rule. The average height of the 64 starting guards who finished last season was 6’3 3/4. That includes Green Bay’s Daryn Colledge (6’4) and Josh Sitton (6’3).
Veteran T.J. Lang is currently the No. 2 left guard. He’s also taller than the average guard (6’4 1/4), but he’s a more natural fit inside than Sherrod. That’s because the former Eastern Michigan star has a solid build and a wide, square frame. He also has enough lower-body strength to anchor effectively against power. But Lang has a few issues of his own. For one, he’s not a particularly good athlete – something that’s apparent when he has to respond to quick counters or get to the second level. He also needs to improve his overall awareness. He tended to be a bit slow reacting to blitzes last summer.
Based purely on body type and athletic ability, it would probably make the most sense to move Bryan Bulaga to left guard and put Sherrod at right tackle. But under these unique circumstances, it’s understandable why the Packers chose not to go in this direction. Such a move would create question marks at two positions, and no team wants that when the regular season is scheduled to open in 37 days.
The last time the Packers lost a starting left guard to free agency was 2005. Mike Wahle’s exit to Carolina left a hole in the line that wasn’t adequately filled until Daryn Colledge was drafted a year later. General manager Ted Thompson thought he had an able replacement in Adrian Klemm, but he was wrong. He’s probably not wrong this time. Chances are, either Sherrod or Lang will be able to get the job done. The former is too talented and the latter too hard-working to fail the way Klemm did. But on a team which has very few question marks heading into the season, this is definitely one that’s yet to be answered.