After having a tough time protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2012, the Green Bay Packers hope the return of offensive tackle Derek Sherrod will improve line play in 2013. Sherrod was Green Bay's first-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, but he has only played in five games for the Packers.
Sherrod broke his right leg in two places on Dec. 18, 2011, during the Packers' 19-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He missed the remainder of that season, and with a slow recovery, missed the entire 2012 season, too. The Packers expected Sherrod to make it back onto the field at some point this season, but with the healing process taking longer than expected, they were forced to shut him down for the remainder on Nov. 28.
The Packers didn't expect missing Sherrod to be as big of a problem as it was this season, but injury woes across the board left Green Bay's offensive line awfully thin, as linemen Greg Van Roten, T.J. Lang, Jeff Saturday and Bryan Bulaga have all missed time, too. The constantly shuffled unit allowed 51 sacks in the regular season, second-most in the NFL. The Packers' line didn't have much success opening holes for running backs, either. Green Bay ranked 22nd in the league with an average of 3.9 yards per carry.
As far as Sherrod goes, offensive line coach James Campen expects the young tackle to get healthy and play an important role with the team next season:
"I expect him to be back and competing for a spot," Campen told the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Hodkiewicz. "He was just on the cusp of doing some very good things when he got hurt. It was there and unfortunately we had the injury in Kansas City and it's taken a little bit longer than we had thought to get ready, but we expect him to be back and ready to go."
In addition to Sherrod, Bulaga, another tackle and former first-rounder, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith appear to have jobs on Green Bay's O-line secured. At the guard positions, the Packers can either work with what they have or try to improve through the draft and free agency.
Perhaps the biggest concern on Sherrod going forward isn't of the injury variety -- his broken leg was an unfortunate, isolated incident, and he didn't miss any significant time in college at Mississippi State -- but could have more to do with how quickly he's able to shake off the rust. Sherrod hasn't participated in an offseason program as a professional, and having played just five games in two years, he may be a couple of steps behind his teammates. However, Campen doesn't seem to worried about those issues:
"I don't think so with him. I don't think so with a kid like him," Campen said. "You're dealing with a guy who played in the SEC, a high level of football and the character of that kid. He's doing everything he can to get on the field and he's a smart, intelligent guy. He's not a mental error guy. He holds himself accountable. He's an excellent teammate. He doesn't like to disappoint. Once he's cleared, I think he'll be off and running."
For the Packers, the sooner he is cleared, the better. If the team wants to embark on another Super Bowl run, it must have improved offensive line play, and it appears as if Sherrod is a key player who can make that happen.
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