He has been a man of few words since the day he arrived. That has not changed.
What has changed, noticeably, is his expression. No, Derek Sherrod isn’t wearing a vintage Vivienne Westwood hat, dancing and singing his way down the halls of Lambeau Field like Pharrell Williams. But he is smiling – a lot. And after having precious little to be happy about over the past two years – ever since suffering a broken leg in Kansas City in December 2011 and requiring emergency surgery – that alone is good news.
The fact that the Green Bay Packers’ 2011 first-round pick has looked good in practice and acquitted himself well in the preseason opener at Tennessee on Saturday night is a bonus.
“The big fella’s happy,” offensive line coach James Campen. “So that makes us all happy.”
The Packers are also happy with his play, which is significant on multiple levels: Not only has he been healthy enough to take part in every practice dating back to the start of the offseason program, but he’s gradually improved to the point that the painful loss of jack-of-all-trades offensive lineman Don Barclay to a season-ending knee injury last week apparently won’t hurt the team’s depth as much as initially feared because of Sherrod’s new lease on his football life.
He may not talk like vocal offensive line leaders T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, but his play over the past week – as the rust has finally come off – has them talking.
“I was just saying, talking with T.J. – Derek has looked well. Over the past four or five days, it’s the best I’ve ever seen him,” Sitton said. “He’s starting to do some good things. I’m happy for him and I’m sure he’s happy.”
Said Lang: “I think he’s had a hell of a camp. He looks bigger, he looks stronger, he looks quicker. It’s definitely good to have some insurance, him being that third guy to fill in. He’s having a hell of a camp, so he just needs to continue to get better and take steps. He’s going to be an important guy for us.”
Against the Titans, Sherrod played 45 snaps – 28 at left tackle, and 17 at right tackle. To put that workload in perspective, he played only 115 snaps as a rookie in 2011 before his injury, missed the entire 2012 season and played only six offensive snaps – all coming in a blowout loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving – last year after spending the first half of the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Against the Titans on Saturday night, he was solid in the run game, consistently sealing off his man. (Sherrod was at right tackle on Rajion Neal’s 12-yard touchdown run around left end.) In the passing game, he did not allow a sack, hit or hurry, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Frankly, that might be the best he’s played since he’s been here,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, adding that the 6-foot-6, 321-pound Sherrod is stronger than he’s ever been. “I thought he definitely took a step.”
Said Campen: “I’m really proud of him, the way he’s handled his business. The thing that people don’t understand is the amount of work that was done to get him prepared for this moment, to be able to go out and compete. It’s a great tribute to him and what he’s about. He’s as classy of a kid as they come. He will earn everything that he gets. It’s been a long road for him, but we’re past that. It’s a bright future for him. It’s exciting to see him out there playing. It’s fun.”
And while there remains uncertainty ahead for Sherrod – because of his star-crossed career to this point, the Packers didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season – he’s simply enjoying the moment. With very little to say about it.
“I felt like I did pretty good. There’s always room for improvement and that’s what practice is for,” Sherrod said. “I go out and try to prove myself every single day and just try to get better. That’s what training camp is all about. As far as I’m concerned, every single rep is important. The more reps you get, the more experience you get, the more you can get better.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.