Talented Sherrod Lost in the Shuffle
by Mike Conklin
July 25, 2012
It's not easy for Derek Sherrod to get lost in a crowd.
At 6'5" and 321 pounds, he stands out wherever he goes. In many ways, he's a physical marvel. At the Packers Hall of Fame, there is an exhibit that highlights the player on the team with the biggest feet, hands, and wingspan. That player is Sherrod. There are footprints and handprints for people to insert their own normal-sized appendages, only to marvel at how they are dwarfed by Sherrod's gargantuan features. His nearly seven foot wingspan is outlined on the wall as well, leaving observers shaking their heads in disbelief.
Even so, Sherrod has almost been lost in the shuffle this offseason. And it's not really his fault.
The scouting report on Sherrod coming out of college was that he was extremely gifted athletically, but would need to get stronger and grow into his role. Because of the lockout, he had the deck stacked against him from that standpoint. When he finally did get his chance, he was thrown on to the field and penciled in as a starter at left guard. It was not his natural position, and he understandably struggled as he tried to digest the playbook on the fly. He was demoted soon thereafter, leaving those on the outside wondering if the Packers had made a mistake. It was way too early to break out the "bust" label, but Sherrod didn't make a great first impression. And first impressions are hard to shake.
The next time Sherrod was in the spotlight was when he was thrust into duty in Week 5 against the Falcons. Bryan Bulaga wasn't playing due to a knee injury, and then Chad Clifton went down on the 14th play of the game. Newhouse was unproven himself, only starting his second game, and was he moved over from the right side to play left tackle. Sherrod was inserted as the right tackle. The Packers went down 14-0 early in that game, and with the unsettled offensive line in a hostile environment on the road, it was not an easy game to watch from a fan's perspective. Yet after a few rocky moments early, Sherrod settled in and played a workmanlike game, all things considered.
He didn't have to play many more meaningful snaps during most of the season, but was called into duty again when Bulaga tweaked his knee in Kansas City. Everything changed in the fourth quarter when Tamba Hali fell on Sherrod's leg and it snapped.
It was the kind of injury that was hard to watch, and you couldn't help but have the thought run through your mind wondering if he 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 exactly the same 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 are always tight-lipped about injuries and there is not a whole lot of news on his recovery, but from what little we have heard it sounds like Sherrod appears to be progressing well in his recovery and his long-term prognosis is good.
Anyone who has been through a major injury knows that rehabilitation is not easy, 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 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. “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 with the help of Derek's father Louis, she raised their four kids with a strong hand. All of their 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. But Harriet isn't about to let Derek fail.
“Derek has to go there and earn his respect,” said Harriet the night Derek was drafted. “I want people to be proud of the team for having picked him and have no regrets. He’s going to work for it. If he acts a different way outside this house than he does inside it, I will know about it and be there in a heartbeat. I’ve always told him to work to be the best, and that’s the kind of person who’s coming up there. I’ve always told him, ‘Sign your name to your job.’ He’s going to make the people up there proud. I guarantee that. We’re proud people. We’re mighty grateful for the opportunity as a family. We don’t take him going to Green Bay lightly, and neither does he.”
Sherrod likely heard his mother's voice in his head as he did the countless required repetitions during his rehab workouts.
"Nothing is given in life," she told him again and again. "You have to work for it. You have to earn it."
We will find out within the next few days if Sherrod is ready to compete in training camp, or if the Packers will sit him out for a while. It will be a challenge for him to be able to play right away, only seven months into a recovery that typically takes six to eight months. With a man the size of Sherrod, it would stand to reason that his recovery might take a little longer than it does for others. Sherrod knows that it is up to the doctors to clear him to practice. He also knows that when he returns, he will be ready to work even harder. He knows what he was brought to Green Bay to do.
"I'm basically there to protect (Aaron Rodgers)," said Sherrod. "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 he has the talent to back that up. 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. 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 his prediction comes true, both Coach Mullen and Derek Sherrod will gain a lot of friends in Green Bay.
Photo Credit: Getty Images