Packers OL Sherrod looks to step out from crowd
Mike Conklin, Packers contributor
Tackle Derek Sherrod.Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY - It is not easy for Derek Sherrod to get lost in a crowd. At six feet five inches tall and weighing in over 320 pounds, he stands out wherever he goes.
In many ways, Sherrod is a physical marvel. At the Packers Hall of Fame, there was an exhibit last year that highlighted the player on the team with the biggest feet, hands, and wingspan. In each case, that player was Sherrod.
There were examples of his footprints and handprints for people to compare with their own, and inevitably visitors would marvel at how theirs were dwarfed by Sherrod's gargantuan features. His nearly seven-foot wingspan was outlined on the wall as well, leaving many fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
But as big of a man as Derek Sherrod may be, he has almost been lost in the shuffle this offseason due to circumstances largely out of his control.
Late in the right tackle’s rookie season in 2011, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali fell on Sherrod's leg. The bone snapped instantly.
It was the kind of injury that was hard to watch, and for many it was difficult not to wonder if Sherrod would ever be the same player again. Former Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey watched the replay of the gruesome injury, and he knew right away exactly what had happened.
“(Hali’s) legs just whipped around and hit him,” Dickey told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “It’s got to be a perfect angle, and all things just need to be perfect in all the horrible ways for it to happen, and it did. I could tell it immediately.”
Dickey would know. He suffered an identical injury in 1977, and ended up missing nearly two years. When he came back, he could still pass the ball with the best of them, but his mobility would never be the same.
“It was definitely a setback,” Dickey said. “If I’d played any other position, I probably couldn’t have played.”
Sherrod should be thankful that it is 35 years later, and that medical treatments for these types of injuries have improved dramatically. The Packers prefer not to disclose information about injuries, and other than the occasional statement that Sherrod is making progress there has not been much news on his recovery over the past nineteen months.
Training camp will give the public their first look at whether or not the former first round pick can resume his career where he left off.
Rehabilitation from such a severe injury that required multiple surgeries is a grueling process, but Sherrod is no stranger to hard work. Having grown up in a military family (his father was in the Navy for 21 years), discipline and dedication are things that had been instilled in him since childhood.
“Derek spent more time preparing than anyone, working on his technique, always trying to get better,” said Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen, who coached Sherrod in college. Mullen was quoted in an article on the Packers team website shortly after Sherrod was drafted.
“He had such a pro attitude. Everyone wants to play on Saturday. If you don’t want to play in the games then there’s something wrong. But on Thursdays, in practice in just helmets, no one worked like he did. In those terms, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
That sense of pride was instilled in him chiefly by his mother. Harriet Sherrod is a strong woman with strong opinions, and she raised her four kids with a strong hand.
All of her children have already achieved a measure of success. With his siblings having completed a combined three tours of duty in Iraq to go along with an MBA and two more Masters degrees in the works, Derek might be the least accomplished of them all.
He likely heard his mother's voice in his head as he did countless repetitions during his rehab workouts.
"Nothing is given in life," she told him. "You have to work for it. You have to earn it."
The Packers will find out within the coming weeks how much Sherrod's work has paid off, and whether or not he will have an impact in training camp after this long layoff. Can he recapture the promise that led him to be drafted in the first round?
The competition at right tackle is wide open, and on a team that features arguably the best quarterback in the league Sherrod knows what he has to do. He actually knew before he even set foot in Green Bay for the first time.
"I'm basically there to protect (Aaron Rodgers)," said Sherrod during his media teleconference just after being drafted two years ago.
"That's what I do. I go in and work hard and make sure that nobody hits the quarterback. I don't give up sacks, I take pride in not letting anybody even touch my quarterback (or) get near my quarterback."
Coach Mullen thinks that Sherrod has the talent to back up those words. Having served as offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida, Mullen has been around plenty of talented offensive linemen that have gone on to professional careers. He thinks Sherrod is as good as any of them.
“I’d be shocked if he doesn’t play in the NFL for a long time,” Mullen said back in 2011. “Let’s put it this way. He’s the best tackle I’ve ever coached. Maurkice Pouncey is the best center I’ve ever been around. Chris Kemoeatu is the best guard I’ve ever been around. Derek is the best tackle. I might lose some friends saying that.”
If Sherrod is able to put his injury behind him and he can start playing like the player his college coach used to rave about, then the competition at right tackle during training camp may end up being one of the better battles of the summer.
Read more from Mike Conklin (@Packerpedia) on packerpedia.com, for which he is the founder and editor. He also co-hosts a weekly podcast on packerstalk.com.